We’ve been closely watching retail email activity since the start of the pandemic. Not surprisingly, year-over-year trends were largely negative for the last nine months of 2020, during the period of lockdown and restricted activity. Even so, email proved to be an invaluable tool during that period for brands to communicate precisely, quickly, and effectively with their customers in an emergency situation.  

The post-Holiday Covid surge began to abate in the first quarter of 2021, especially with vaccine proliferation. Email activity and engagement also increased, most visibly starting with Easter and then through the various spring and summer calendar events; e.g., Mother’s Day; Memorial Day, Independence Day.

So we were curious to see how 2021’s Holiday activity would look, especially in light of the ongoing Covid resurgence. We focused especially on emails aimed at the traditional post-Thanksgiving Holiday kickoff, screening for emails themed specifically to Black Friday or Cyber Monday. The data we pulled reflect seven key retail categories tracked on our Competitive Tracker platform during the period of October 15th through December 1st. The table below details our year-over-year findings with respect to the number of campaigns sent, emails deployed, and the read rates of this activity.

Table showing our year-over-year findings with respect to the number of campaigns sent, emails deployed and the read rates of this activity.

Noteworthy Black Friday/Cyber Monday findings

  • This year, SparkPost sent 2,476,328,296 emails on behalf of senders on Black Friday, and 2,429,955,789 on Cyber Monday. This is up from the 2 week average of 1,692,806,455 prior to Black Friday. Those numbers are also up from last year when SparkPost senders sent out 1,408,423,961 on Black Friday and 1,410,104,884 emails on Cyber Monday.
  • For the entire group, both the number of campaigns sent and emails deployed increased only slightly year-over-year, while read rates declined by almost 10%.
  • The trends are mirrored in virtually all of the analyzed retail sectors. There were only a few exceptions, and on only certain positive trend metrics; e.g., Apparel and Accessories, Gifts and Remembrances; Sporting Goods, and Toys and Games, and those on not all of their send and response metrics.
  • Most notably, year-over-year read rates declined significantly in every sector, within a range of about 6% (Toys and Games) and over 13% (Sporting Goods).
  • For perspective, Black Friday and Cyber Monday themed mailings constitute only 7% of total email activity tracked in these retail sectors during the period. But that share reflects a downtrend versus 2020’s share of 8%, where the base of total activity actually increased by almost 10%. Put another way, the numerator got smaller in 2021, while the denominator got bigger. Read rates for that total activity base also eroded during that period.

What will happen next?

At this point, connecting causes to these downtrends would be speculative at best. Are customers more likely this year to be back shopping in stores rather than online? Mall parking lots and traffic counts sure look that way. Have the traditional Holiday kickoff event themes become stale? That would also make sense. “Black Friday” has been seriously diluted by its now year-round use to denote any blockbuster promotion. Is “Cyber Monday” less a factor with so many of us working from home and almost perpetually online from anywhere? Have this year’s heavily touted supply chain problems reoriented when people shop? Possibly, on both counts. We see Cyber Monday references within these sectors’ email activity as early as October 4. That’s almost two months before the “real” Cyber Monday. 

Still, much remains to be seen. At this writing, we still have ten days until Christmas, with most of January to follow with post-Holiday clearance promotions. We’ll touch base with you again in late January, to let you know how it went.

~John

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