5 Years of Amazon Black Friday Emails

amazon black friday

Black Friday and Cyber Monday emails have become a firmly entrenched part of the collective American experience. In light of this (and wanting to see what I could learn about their email marketing), I took a deeper dive into the last 5 years of Amazon.com emails I’ve gotten each November.

While Amazon’s emails are remarkably personalized and targeted, what’s most clear is that Amazon has adapted their email strategy based on broader trends (the rise of Cyber Monday), new learnings in what’s effective (significant changes in subjects based on the rise of mobile), and offline competition (expanding the Black Friday focus) numerous times over the years.  The lesson for other companies isn’t so much specific subject lines or topic areas – but instead in how to keep email adaptive and effective.

Different: Emails have adapted extensively to external developments.

Consistent: Highly personalized, geared to making me (the customer) happy and consistent references to what makes Amazon stand out from competition.

5 Years of Amazon Subject Lines

Here are the subject lines:

Beyond the analysis I’ll do here, I’ve probably also revealed more than I ever intended to about myself (though I’ve still yet to figure out why Amazon tried to get me to buy the Large Print Edition of Heart of Darkness in 2009).  What’s undeniable is that Amazon has customized how they communicate with me – in a way that is radically different from what existed before the age of Ecommerce.

The Rise of Cyber Monday

By taking a look at the number of emails mentioning “Cyber Monday” (i.e. the Monday after Thanksgiving known for electronics deals), we see that Cyber Monday first started being mentioned in 2009, but it’s being referenced more and more often.

What this means: Consumers are likely becoming more aware of Cyber Monday as an event, and there’s likely an opportunity for software / technology companies to take advantage of this awareness.  For the first time this year, I got an early offer from a web host promising hosting discounts.

The Impact of Mobile on the Changing Email Subject Line

If we take a look at the first word in Amazon subject lines, we notice that there’s been a remarkable shift from starting nearly every email with Amazon, to an increasing use of the word Save in 2010, to a shift to less consistent titles in 2011. My hypothesis is that this trend away from consistent subject lines is largely due to a greater reliance on mobile – if people are reading an email on their smart phones, starting with Amazon doesn’t provide enough information to encourage them to open the email (especially when you’re emailing them every single day).

The Competitive Response

Finally, Amazon’s Black Friday deals started earlier and were more pervasive this year than previously.  Black Friday deals started 9 days before Black Friday and were released hourly.  Given that Target and Best Buy promised to match Amazon prices this year, this shift is hardly surprising.

Play to your Strengths

Each year, Amazon has consistently played to their advantages over other retailers by retaining a focus on why shopping online is better than offline. Their main taglines in their primary Black Friday email on Thanksgiving reliably focus on avoiding the lines of offline retailers:

  • Don’t spend Black Friday jostling for parking spots (2008)
  • Big Savings, No Waiting (2009 – 2012)

Thanksgiving Email Lessons

The key lesson here is that email strategies (described broadly as how you communicate with customers) needs to be adaptive to what’s happening in the world (And with your business), yet have underlying focus on being personalized and playing to your strengths.

A few specific learnings:

  • Take advantage of events. Whether it’s holidays or competitor actions, leverage external events as a chance to reach out to customers and build your relationship with them. The greeting card industry gets a bad rap for inventing holidays – you probably don’t want to invent Valentine’s day, but there might be a way to create consistent communications around holidays, competitive launches or milestones.
  • Adapt to changes in technology (i.e. if most people are reading your newsletter on mobile, make sure it fits their use case – not just in terms of content, but also in terms of subject).
  • Personalize your communication. Take a look at the last 5 years of Amazon subject lines and you are learning more about me then you are about Amazon. That’s pretty remarkable – and given that they are the largest eCommerce retailer in the world, is what your customers are rapidly growing used to.

Even if all of these ideas sound good, you still have to be both willing to try new things and disciplined about taking a data driven approach to analyzing them afterwards.  You send email for the benefit of your customers in the hope that that translates into a positive outcome for your business – so you better understand whether those emails are actually working. Try often, make sure you are being creative and ambitious enough that you sometimes fail, but know that you are continually improving.

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