Commerce blog | Email Marketing
What I Learned from 300 Black Friday Emails
December 03, 2015
I Received 300 Emails on Black Friday; Here's What I Learned
Not counting messages from friends, the office, and my New York Times news alerts, I received an even 300 emails on Black Friday. What did I learn (other than that I receive way too much email)?
1) Companies feel the need to remind you that it's Black Friday.
Slightly more than a third of the emails—103, to be precise—mentioned "Black Friday" in the subject line. That includes apparel and accessories merchant Zady, which wins the Have Our Cake and Eat It Too Award for its subject line, "This is not a Black Friday email." If that sub line piqued your interest (as it did mine), what you found upon clicking through really wasn't the usual promo message. Copy in white type against a black background explained that because Zady is "committed to everyday decency"—sustainability, fair pay for its suppliers—it was "not inflating prices just to put them on sale, to trick you, the consumer, that you're getting a deal." All the same, the email included mentions of and links to several products. Well played, Zady, well played.
2) Percentage-off offers dominated.
Many subject lines were content to simply reference "sales" and "deals." Among the specific offers mentioned, though, percentage-off savings were far and away most popular, with 25% of all emails referencing them. The plurality of the discounts were a relatively modest 20%-30% off, which raises the question of whether 20% off even stands out in the inbox, compared with, say, 85% off at cosmetics merchant Julep, 75% off at women's fashion brand Veronica Beard and 70% off at apparel and gift etailer Latitude, crafts retailer Michaels, and women's apparel retailer Alexis Bittar.
No doubt in hopes of standing out, a few companies used odd numbers in their percentage-off callouts. Mantry, an artisanal food subscription, touted "Save 53% off your first Mantry Crate"; Bamboo Flooring Company offered a 41% discount.
To be honest, neither number especially stood out among the 298 other marketing emails in my inbox. But to my mind a nonrounded number like 53 or 41 has an inherent honesty to it that appeals to me. It suggests that the company took the time to finesse the best possible discount, not merely slashing a fixed percentage off the top.
3) Free shipping seems to have slipped in popularity.
A few years ago, free shipping was considered king of the promotional offers. This Black Friday, however, only 6% of the emails cited it in their sub lines, and almost always along with another promo. Is it because free shipping eats into too much of the bottom line? Because consumers no longer respond? Or because companies are waiting until closer to Christmas to use it, should their sales fall shy of goal?
4) The focus on promotions left little room for truly attention-grabbing subject lines.
If you were made to cram discounts and other offers into your already tight subject lines, I feel your pain. If anyone ran tests comparing a subject line with a specific offer against a more generic but more creative sub line, I'd love to hear about it, because I suspect that going more general but more clever may work better now that so many marketers are leaning on specifics.
Then again, it is much easier to shove a percentage-off into a subject line than to brainstorm an on-brand, eye-catching subject. (I have firsthand knowledge of this.) Still, those marketers who weren't forced to hammer home specific deals didn't, for the most part, make up for it with catchy verbiage.
A few I liked:
• A Special Message from Delia's"—those five little words from the teen apparel marketer offer so much promise. Even though you're 99% sure the "special message" is just some sort of discount, there's enough vagary and doubt to persuade you to open up.
• Give Your Favorite Foodie a Gift They'll Actually Use," from Panna, a digital cooking magazine. The product is very specific, and the subject line nails its audience. Special kudos to the preview pane: "Because how many mail-order truffle towers does a cook really need?"
• Better Than Leftovers: Free Shipping, Sitewide Savings" from home entertainment and gifts etailer Acorn. Enough info to encourage opens, enough personality to stand apart. Similarly...
• No lines here—just DEALS" from language education firm Rosetta Stone.
5) "FriYay" is becoming a thing (sigh).
Two of the Black Friday subject lines used that abomination of a word—I will refrain from naming and shaming them. A third featured it in its preview pane. Ugh.