Practical Ecommerce

2015 Thanksgiving, Black Friday Email Trends

The Thanksgiving holiday weekend is one of the most important times of the year for many online retailers, with as much as 20 percent of a company’s annual sales at stake for some stores. To ensure success, retailers often rely on email to drive site traffic and sales, especially for Black Friday.

Given the importance of email marketing for this weekend in general and Black Friday in particular, one would imagine that retail marketers would do the best job possible designing email messages for Black Friday. Thus, there may be something to learn from looking at a sample of messages.

For this article, I considered 40 emails that I received from 11:00 p.m. Thanksgiving Day through the end of Black Friday. In some cases, one retailer sent more than one email. If the content was different, I considered each email. But when the content was the same and the identical email was sent a second, third, or, in one case, fifth time, I considered it just once.

Three trends emerge from this unscientific survey. First, retailers were making many offers in each email. Second, the email messages were long and required scrolling or swiping. Third, very few of the emails were optimized for mobile devices.

SENDER SUBJECT OFFER COUNT APPROX. DESKTOP LENGTH, PIXELS MOBILE FRIENDLY? DATE
Overstock FINAL HOURS – 15% off Coupon – Don’t Miss Your Chance to Save! 22 5,165 YES 11-27
Frank & Oak 100% BEST DEALS 11 3,851 NO 11-27
Design By Humans Black Friday is Here! 20% Off + Free Worldwide Shipping 11 1,681 NO 11-27
Gap say YES to no exclusions (hours left) 15 3,355 YES 11-27
Five Below sat & sun only! $5 blanket scarves! 7 2,801 NO 11-27
Stormy Kromer Free shipping now from Stormy Kromer. 3 1,648 NO 11-27
LittleBits The savings don’t stop. 1 1,083 NO 11-27
Men’s Warehouse Final hours for HOT Black Friday deals! 17 5,178 NO 11-27
Levi’s Don’t miss up to 40% off sitewide (+ free shipping) 12 2,936 YES 11-27
Best Buy THE. TIME. IS. NOW. Hurry while our Black Friday deals are still here… 7 1,729 YES 11-27
Ebay BLACK FRIDAY! Big savings. Just for you. 24 4,913 NO 11-27
Williams-Sonoma “The TOP ❿ for BLACK FRIDAY – VITAMIX, ALL-CLAD, NESPRESSO & More” 15 4,584 NO 11-27
Things from Another World 2nd Wave of Black Friday Doorbuster Deals Announced! 11 1,667 YES 11-27
Gap urgent! 50% off ends tonight 5 2,108 YES 11-27
Sports Authority 25% Off Clearance – At Your Nampa Store! 1 1,464 NO 11-27
Frank & Oak ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ How to Win Black Friday 11 3,790 NO 11-27
Hayneedle Take $65 off your order … 16 3,760 YES 11-27
Roxy It’s STILL Black Friday! Get 30% off site-wide + free shipping 5 1,711 NO 11-27
Art.com 45% Off Black Friday Event 9 1,534 NO 11-27
National Geographic Store Black Friday! Save 20% Sitewide + Up to 70% Off Top Gifts 15 3,118 NO 11-27
MyHabit Up to 70% Off: World of Levi’s | Flash Finds: Up to 90% Off Something for Everyone 52 7,987 NO 11-27
JYSK Have you seen our Black Friday flyer yet? 3 1,265 NO 11-27
Cost Plus World Market 3 HOURS ONLY. Beer 9-Packs $9.99. Perfect for parties and presents. 4 2,156 NO 11-27
Simon & Schuster Browse our gift guide to find the perfect book for any reader! 12 2,364 NO 11-27
Design By Humans Win the Limited Edition Monochrome Set! 3 1,479 NO 11-27
Star Trek Store Black Friday Starts NOW! EXCLUSIVES & Up to 60% OFF 7 1,873 NO 11-27
ThinkGeek ThinkGeek’s #000000 Friday: 40% off 75 amazing gifts! 25 3,528 NO 11-27
Eddie Bauer Black Friday! 50% Off Everything In Stores. 7 2,250 NO 11-27
Levi’s TGIF. 11 3,046 NO 11-27
Amazon “Black Friday Deals on Shoes, Clothing & More” 9 2,760 NO 11-27
GNC Today Only! Store FREEBIE + a Special Black Friday Deal 4 1,808 NO 11-27
Maker Shed We’ve Got 200+ Black Friday Deals 1 869 NO 11-27
Hayneedle Shop on! Black Friday is here. 13 3,022 NO 11-27
Best Buy We’ve added MORE – 7 New Doorbusters available NOW 6 1,916 NO 11-27
Cost Plus World Market Black Friday BOGO BONANZA + Downton Abbey Giveaways all weekend. 14 5,291 NO 11-27
Banana Republic Factory Store You’ve waited all year for BLACK FRIDAY! 8 4,811 NO 11-27
Frank & Oak Black Friday FOR REAL 11 3907 NO 11-26
Star Trek Store Your Official Star Trek Guide to Shopping Black Friday 1 660 NO 11-26
Amazon Last Chance Black Friday Deals 2 1,833 NO 11-27

Multiple Offers or Images

Pulling out all of the stops for Black Friday, most of the 40 retail emails reviewed made either multiple offers per email or made 1 offer multiple times. While counting the offers was an imperfect art — is every link an offer? no, but maybe every link with a graphic is — the 40 emails considered averaged more than 10 offers each.

To get an idea of how the offers were displayed, consider an email from Gap, the clothing and accessories retailer, touting 50 percent off everything with no exclusions.

The Gap email had an overarching offer that seemed to apply to many individual images.

The Gap email had an overarching offer that seemed to apply to many individual images.

The top portion of the email makes the initial offer, promising 50 percent off of everything.

Under the heading of a general offer, Gap suggests specific categories.

Under the heading of a general offer, Gap suggests specific categories.

As one scrolls through the email there are several links suggesting that the reader shop for specific categories. For example, there were links for “Shop Gapfit Gifts” and “Shop His Gifts.” In all, the email made 9 of these category offers, all, presumably under the aforementioned heading of 50 percent off of everything.

The Gap email message also made several secondary offers.

The Gap email message also made several secondary offers.

Lower still in the long email, Gap made a generic offer to “Shop Now,” and several secondary offers like getting the Gap gift guide. In all, the email made 15 offers, most of which seemed to fall under the general 50 percent off promotion.

Men’s Wearhouse sent an email on November 27, Black Friday, that made 17 offers, as another example. At the top of this email, Men’s Wearhouse included a link for a special Tommy Hilfiger suit offer. Just below the logo there was a free shipping and free return offer, and the first promotional graphic in the email touted a 65 percent off Black Friday sale. The three offers appeared in just the email’s header section.

A Black Friday email from the Men's Wearhouse makes three distinct offers at the top of the email.

A Black Friday email from the Men’s Wearhouse makes three distinct offers at the top of the email.

Moving lower in the more than 5,000-pixel-long email, shoppers find price-point offers for individual products or product categories, like no-iron dress shirts for $29.99 or designer jeans for $49.99.

The same Men's Wearhouse email message includes price point offers for products and categories.

The same Men’s Wearhouse email message includes price point offers for products and categories.

For the most part, the Black Friday emails I considered used images to promote each of the multiple offers — this trend might be to both make many offers and to fearlessly use images to sell.

Long Emails That Require Scrolling

For each of the 40 emails, I recorded the length of the email in pixels. This length can vary among email clients; the length assigned to each email is therefore something of an estimate.

On average, the emails were some 2,844 pixels long. If a recipient read those emails on an email client like Yahoo Mail with a 1,280 by 800 monitor, the user might need to scroll 4 or 5 times to take in the entire Black Friday email message.

The longest email considered was from MyHabit, the members-only home and fashion retailer, and was nearly 8,000 pixels long. The shortest message came from the Star Trek Store and was just 660 pixels long.

Many marketers will remember when we attempted to keep email content “above the fold,” in the reading pane. The idea was to design email-marketing messages so that the reader might see the entire message at once. Clearly this is no longer the case.

The driver for this change may be mobile. Perhaps, oddly, scrolling via a swipe on a mobile device may be easier than scrolling on a desktop, and many mobile users would rather interact with a long page rather than loading many pages.

So Much for Mobile Friendly Design

Given the rise of the mobile Internet and the associated increase in the number of consumers reading email on smartphones, one might have expected the majority of the emails reviewed to be responsive, but that was simply not the case. In fact, the opposite was true, the majority of emails were not responsive.

Just 7 of the 40 emails considered were responsive, and of these, some were barely responsive, with only minor changes to buttons.

In spite of this, some retailers did seem to be thinking of mobile users.

For example, a short Black Friday email marketing message from JYSK, a Danish retailer of household goods, was not responsive, but it featured relatively large banner-button-images that were tappable on a mobile device.

Although not responsive, this email from JYSK was still manageable on a smartphone.

Although not responsive, this email from JYSK was still manageable on a smartphone.

Whether this was simply a function of a very basic layout or done to make it somewhat easier for a mobile user to interact with the email is not clear. It may have just been a happy accident. But, nonetheless, this email turned out alright on my Nexus 5 smartphone.

Similarly, an email from the Banana Republic Factory Store was not responsive. But the email was simple in design and the offers were relatively easy to tap.

This was another example of an email that was not responsive, but worked somewhat on a smartphone.

This was another example of an email that was not responsive, but worked somewhat on a smartphone.

ThinkGeek, the retailer of tech-related gear, did something interesting in one of its Black Friday emails. It had a tiny link at the top of the email, offering a mobile version. The link opened a version of the email in a web browser. This “mobile” version was responsive, but the actual email sent was not.

ThinkGeek offered a link to a responsive version of the email message.

ThinkGeek offered a link to a responsive version of the email message.

Armando Roggio

Armando Roggio

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  1. Carlos Rivera December 1, 2015 Reply

    Nice! I’ve observed the same trends in my inbox this year, too. It is amazing that so many retailers did not have mobile friendly emails!!!