Black Friday Recap: What We’ve Learned

black fri
Now that the two largest retail holidays of the year – Black Friday and Cyber Monday – have come and gone, it’s time to step back and take a breath. Whether everything ran without a hitch or you hit a few snags, there’s always something to be learned after the fact. So, we’re going to examine some Black Friday trends we noticed and discuss what worked and what didn’t. 

Campaign Frequency 

Retailer Number of Emails Sent Before 11/27 Number of Emails Sent on 11/27
Amazon 19 2
Neiman Marcus 19 1
Bergdorf Goodman 18 1
Sephora 16 1
Wet Seal 12 1

Between November 1st and November 27th, I received 21 Black Friday emails from Amazon. Interestingly, the day after Black Friday they were sending three emails a day, and in the preceding five days they were averaging two a day.

This may seem excessive. In fact, even department store giants like Neiman Marcus, who we’ll touch on again later, and Bergdorf Goodman weren’t emailing so frequently, and smaller stores like Wet Seal and Sephora sent even fewer emails. The overall consensus among most stores seemed to be one email day-of, and a series of follow-up emails throughout the weekend.

There was a huge disparity in the number of emails these stores sent leading up to Black Friday, too. As you might guess, Amazon surpassed the other stores I observed by leaps and bounds, sending almost double the number of Black Friday-themed emails as Wet Seal did.

But does this increase in email frequency really help? Based on early reports, it does. Pre-Black Friday promotions were most popular among Sephora-sized retailers, partially because they help manage site traffic. Neiman Marcus, for example, experienced an intermittent, 12-hour outage on their site. This led them to extend their Black Friday sales to Saturday and, when they continued to experience technical difficulties, Sunday afternoon (source).

Neiman Marcus 60% Off

Send Times

Retailer Time of 1st Email Time of 2nd Email
Amazon 7:24 AM EST 7:55 PM EST
Neiman Marcus 7:16 AM EST N/A
Bergdorf Goodman 7:09 AM EST N/A
Sephora 3:41 AM EST N/A
Wet Seal 10:30 AM EST N/A

 Send times varied by retailer, but the strategy for those who sent two day-of was straightforward: send one in the morning, and one in the early evening. There was a huge range in when the first email was sent, but most went out between 6:00–11:00 AM EST, with those who sent two emails sending the first one on the earlier side.

Again, Amazon was an exception. I received this email at 4:18 AM EST on Thanksgiving morning:

Amazon Thanksgiving Content

For the most part, companies sent fairly generic Black Friday emails. There was little personalization apart from the occasional name callout (“Marissa, save 20%…”). All used some sort of consistent, holiday-themed branding in their November emails, even if they didn’t explicitly mention Black Friday. Out of the companies I observed, Amazon sent the most personalized emails. A handful of their emails contained products that were curated from departments I had previously purchased from, like electronics.

However, the issue with this approach is that they were not necessarily showing me products I would be apt to purchase. For example, just because I purchased a router in August, I’m not necessarily interested in buying a discounted Ethernet cable, too.


While no hard data is being circulated yet, preliminary reports are stating that brick-and-mortar sales fell this year, while ecommerce sales increased by 14.3 percent. Furthermore, email marketing led to a 25 percent jump in sales this year (source), so evidently these methodical, extended promotions paid off.

When approaching email marketing, it’s important to keep in mind that not everyone is Amazon. They started implementing their Black Friday marketing strategy when Halloween was hardly over, and consistently reminded customers of sales for nearly daily for a month. Obviously, this model does fit for all ecommerce merchants. Amazon’s enormous scope of products allowed them, for the most part, to put fresh content in each email.

For other ecommerce stores, it makes sense to follow a model that is more similar to Sephora or Wet Seal’s. While they took advantage of the holiday and incorporated it into their email marketing strategy, Black Friday itself was not the end-all-be-all of their campaigns. Instead, they tended to focus on deals more generally in the span leading up to Black Friday. And, by starting their holiday marketing later in November, they limited the number of discounts they offered.


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