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Black Friday 2021 - Why is it such a different period of the year for retailers?


This article is written by Konstantinos Karagkounis, Deliverability Operations Lead at Emarsys and member of the Research Hub of the DMA Email Council .

Those of you working in retail or e-commerce are most probably already planning this year’s Black Friday. It’s also likely you’re reading the plethora of blogs advising on what to do (or not to do) in preparation and during the Black Friday period, brainstorming tactics and strategies to achieve your objectives.

In case you are after tips and guidelines, visit the Emarsys’ blog or the various DMA’s sources – here you can find practical and helpful pieces of advice!

This article is not meant to be an oration around the what and how of Black Friday’s best practices rather an attempt to demystify the why around one of the most challenging times of the year for all marketers. Black Friday was always a special day for retailers but this year it will be even more different. Read on to find out why.

Premise n.1 - Consumer behaviour is different

The several lockdowns and the pandemic have resulted in consumers becoming more digitally educated, switching both browsing and purchasing from physical to online stores.

Within this new context, this year’s DMA’s annual reports (Consumer Email Tracker & Marketer Email Tracker ) have highlighted a few key factors to consider when planning and building your future email programmes:

  • The most important factors in opening an email are brand recognition (68%) and the subject line (59%)
  • Just one in six people (15%) report that at least half the emails they receive are useful
  • The main driver for unsubscribing is receiving too many emails (56%), followed by information no longer being relevant (38%), not remembering having signed- up (34%) and not recognising the brand (34%)
  • The main driver behind people giving their emails to a brand is to receive discounts and offers (48%)
  • Half of the surveyed marketers (51%) believe consumers open and read at last half of the emails they receive. However, earlier this year, most consumers (59%) told us that this figure is below half. In other words, marketers may well be overestimating how many emails customers are engaging with.

Premise n.2 – Black Friday’s trends are always pointing upwards

On Black Friday both the global email volume and the generated revenue show a year-on-year increase.

Within our clients at Emarsys alone, we have seen a 30% rise in email sending volume from 2019-2020 on this day!

During the coronavirus pandemic, a lot of consumers saved money and now they are keen to spend and win back the “lost year” – it’s worth mentioning the total sales volume in the EU alone went up by 3.1% compared to pre-pandemic times.

Premise n.3 - 2021 Black Friday’s triplet

When looking at Black Friday, we shouldn’t overlook that from being an individual calendar day celebration, Black Friday is now perceived as a week-long event or even something that stretches to the whole of November for certain retailers. It usually ends with Cyber Monday’s week offers, only to start a new cycle of offers and promotions for the Christmas and New Year Holidays’ season.

By combining the data and insights summarised in the previous sections, three are the perspectives to consider when thinking and planning 2021’s Black Friday:

  • The consumers’ perspective - the influx of offers and related communications (many of those could be from brands they haven’t heard from for months) might cause digital fatigue, as mailboxes get more congested than usual- especially if we combine it with the “Singles Day” on November 11th; at the same time there is a lot of interest and spending capacity.
  • The retailers’ perspective - the pressure to increase revenues and follow the global trend upwards. It is expected that many marketers would be under pressure to maximize this year’s opportunity by sending more and more email and catch up last year’s poor trading conditions.
  • The email providers’ perspective - the need to protect their infrastructure and users, which can lead to closer scrutiny and filtering. Even major providers like Gmail or Microsoft must prioritize and it is the senders with the best reputation those who are going to enjoy the best deliverability and lowest throttling rates.

If you step away for a moment from your individual perspective and program planning, think and do not underestimate what is going on globally during this period: The entire email and advertising ecosystem – retail companies, email providers, infrastructure and consumers- are put under a lot of stress due the enormous increase of offers.

Move ahead of your competition and win the Black Friday 2021’s race!

Now that you know why Black Friday isn’t an ordinary retail event, you can go back and re-read the “what you should do” preparation guidelines by Emarsys , the DMA or Validity’s peak sales survival guide.

I would like to close with some recommendations which I find particularly important:

  1. Try to build up the expectations with your customer base as early as possible: Give them the time to familiarise themselves with your brand and offers, maybe it can be the right time to set up BIMI to help your brand awareness, so your emails stand out and get opened
  2. Review your current infrastructure: This should include not only healthy sending IPs and email sending capacity, but also being prepared for both your website and e-store to receive a significant spike in traffic within a matter of hours
  3. Remember that there are also other channels other than email: Social ads, SMS, in-store promotions, even snail-mail! To find out more about setting up an effective multi-channel strategy watch Emarsys’ Black Friday Boot Camp. Do not get overwhelmed and move away from the best sending practices as you might harm the reputation you were building for months or years.
  4. Especially this year, the newly introduced Apple Mail Privacy Protection in iOS15, might bring difficulties to marketers who are basing their segmentation and active users’ identification solely on open rates. You can follow DMA’s research page for new publications on the topic or read a thorough guide from Validity.
  5. Lastly, being part of a Certification program like the one offered by Validity, has proven to boost your deliverability and improve your programs’ overall performance.

As a closing note, it should be expected that this year’s Black Friday period will be different, bigger and certainly more complex than any other. However, there are still 2 months to go and there is plenty of time to understand your options, get prepared accordingly and be in top shape to overcome the new challenges during this peak season.

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