Why Timely Discount-Focused Emails Help You Compete During the Holidays

This is the first in a series of articles that looks at the ecommerce sales landscape that occurs during the holiday season. This first installment focuses on competition for consumers’ attention that occurs during this time period. Competition is defined as the total number of campaigns sent on a daily basis.

It’s nearly here. The Big Game. The Stanley Cup. The World Series of ecommerce. No matter what sport you compare it to, most retailers and ecommerce businesses agree that the Black Friday and Cyber Monday weekend (BFCM) is one of the most important weekends for their businesses—and for good reason.

Online businesses drove $20.5 billion dollars in sales over Cyber Weekend in 2018, according to TechCrunch. But data shows that sales made over this particular weekend accounted for only two percent of the overall online sales driven during the 2018 holiday season (November 1-December 31, 2018). 

During the holiday period last year, online businesses generated more than $850 billion in revenue—up 19 percent over 2017, according to Practical Ecommerce. While Thursday through Monday of Cyber Weekend are important days for online retailers, they’re not the only days during the season that brands should pay close attention to.

The holiday season is one of the few times each year when consumers are actively looking to score deals and spend their hard-earned dollars, and this unique annual sales opportunity isn’t lost on online businesses. 

Brands spend months planning, developing, and testing various holiday marketing strategies. You determine the best promotions you’ll offer to your customers—everything from free shipping offers to top-tier discounts. Yet many brand builders struggle with questions like, “When should I send the best offers to my customers? When will my discounts have the biggest impact? And how early is too early to send an offer?”

These questions are common questions and you’re right to consider them. You want to make sure your offer stands out, but you also want to navigate the incredible competition that competes for your customers’ attention during this short timeframe. 

I’m a performance marketer, so I was curious about a few things about this extremely competitive time of year. What are brands doing to drive success? Do certain discounting strategies work better than others? Are the campaigns you’re sending over Cyber Weekend your most effective campaigns? 

Curious about these questions, I worked with Evan Cover on the business intelligence team here at Klaviyo to dig in and find some answers. We looked at 135,000 campaigns sent by 5,000 brands during the holiday season last year (November 1-December 31, 2018), which represented $425 million in online sales. 

Read on to learn about how your brand can best compete for the attention of consumers during this busy time.


The email competition timeline

Of the 135,000 campaigns sent by 5,000 brands during the 2018 holiday season that Evan analyzed, 62,000 (45 percent) of them included a mention of a discount in the subject line. When he looked just at the discount campaigns alone, he found that 30 percent of those campaigns were sent over Cyber Weekend. 

For most brands, November 1st marks the official start to the holiday season. As Halloween wraps up, holiday offers start to pop-up with increasing frequency. 

But how soon and at what frequency do we begin to see discount-focused messages in our inboxes? And here, we’re talking about the unique number of discounts brands sent—not the amount of the discount itself. 

The greatest volume of daily discount-focused campaigns was sent across the Thursday through Monday period of Cyber Weekend. But they didn’t start there. Brands should be aware of a warm-up period that started well before this weekend. 

Prior to Cyber Weekend 2018 (November 1-18, 2018), the average number of discount campaigns (those emails with discounts in the subject line) sent per day was fairly consistent: 590 per day. 

Seemingly overnight, on November 19th discount-focused campaigns skyrocketed to an average of 1,289 sent Monday through Wednesday before Thanksgiving—a 4X increase compared to the first half of the month.

Competition virtually doubled beginning on Thanksgiving (Thursday) and remained consistent through Cyber Monday: the average number of discount-focused campaigns sent per day was 3,684. 

Black Friday and Cyber Monday, specifically, accounted for the largest volume of discount-focused campaigns: each saw more than 5,000 of these emails sent—a 7X increase from the start of the month.

Competition remained high the Tuesday after Cyber Monday with brands sending 2,182 discount-focused campaigns.

Timeframe Avg. Discount-focused Campaign Sends Per Day
November 1-18, 2018 590
November 19-21, 2018 (Mon-Wed) 1,289
Thanksgiving, November 22, 2018 (Thanksgiving) 2,325
November 23, 2018 (Black Friday) 5,417
November 24, 2018 (Small Business Saturday) 2,977
November 25, 2018 2,352
November 26, 2018 (Cyber Monday) 5,348
November 27 (Tuesday) 2,152

Here’s a look at the volume of campaign sends, by day, between November 1 and December 31, 2018. The green line represents discount-focused campaigns, while the yellow line represents campaigns focused on something other than a discount.





You can see from the spikes that there’s a sizeable increase in competition that occurs during this short timeframe. But your own inbox can probably tell you that, as well. 

So what happened in the weeks following Cyber Weekend last year? 

For approximately ten days following this weekend, competition decreased slightly: brands sent an average of 779 discount campaigns per day during this timeframe. Then, Evan saw what was likely a brand’s final push to get holiday shoppers take place during the second week of December where discount-focused campaign sends increased to 1,032 per day. 

On certain days, competition was definitively more fierce for your customers’ attention as you can see from the chart. But there were also days that were less competitive. 

Depending on your goals and what discounts you want to offer, it could make more sense to send an email with a strong discount earlier in November or potentially after Cyber Weekend in order to capture your customers’ attention and avoid the increased competition from other brands. 


How does an increase in campaign sends influence email performance?

This may or may not come as a surprise, but during Cyber Weekend 2018, Evan actually saw campaign open rates decline. That decline was driven by two factors. 

First, as Cyber Weekend approached, brands began to loosen their sending strategies. They sent campaigns to wider audiences than they typically did in an effort to capture more eyes and sales. 

Second, no matter how lucrative your offer is or how witty your subject line reads, the average person can only consume so many emails and marketing messages on a given day. When you combine this with less specific marketing messages, it’s clear why you could anticipate slightly lower open and clickthrough rates.




When email volume increased drastically on the Wednesday before Cyber Weekend, open rates plummeted. You can see in the chart that open rates hovered around 15-16 percent until Thanksgiving, at which point they dropped by 4 percent. After this, open rates didn’t recover to their previous levels until the Wednesday following Cyber Weekend.


How does this 2018-based data compare to previous years? 

I’m not sure about your Thanksgiving dinner conversations, but holiday shopping and the best deals are always a topic of conversation at some point on Turkey Day. Eventually, someone at the table will say something like, “It feels like the deals are starting earlier and earlier.” 

Data shows this isn’t just a feeling. It’s reality.  

Evan compared our 2018 dataset to discount-focused campaign sends during the same time in the three prior years and found the data showed that brands sent out emails earlier in 2018 than they did in either 2017 or 2016.

This is due to the overall trend in retail and ecommerce to offer Cyber Weekend deals earlier each year in an effort to beat the competition and win sales from other brands. Emails sent immediately prior to Cyber Weekend had less competition with other emails sent on those specific days, so they had higher open rates as a result.

Here you can see the trend of how email sending behavior differed in 2016-2018. In 2018, brands ramped up their campaign sends earlier than in prior years. Specifically, look at the left-shift of the green line of the chart below. The green line (2018) is above and to the left of the blue and yellow lines (2017 and 2016), which means that brands started ramping up their email sends earlier in the year in 2018 than they did in previous years. The higher the line, the more email volume.



In 2018, brands also sent more emails on the Tuesday immediately following Cyber Monday. Brands saw a high number of orders on this day in both 2016 and 2017, and again in 2018. Open rates on this day were also higher, which makes sense since there were fewer emails sent and inbox competition was less.  




Not all Novembers are created equal

One important thing to bear in mind for the 2019 holiday season (and every year) is that Thanksgiving shifts—it’s never on the same date. In 2019, Thanksgiving falls later in the month which means people have fewer days to shop between the Tuesday after Cyber Monday and Christmas. This year, there are 27 shopping days before Thanksgiving and only 22 shopping days after Cyber Monday. Last year, there were 21 days before Thanksgiving and 28 days after Cyber Monday.

What does this mean for brands? 

If you’re looking for days when competition might be less intense, you may be running out of time. When it comes to your discount-focused emails, the sooner you send them the better. The coming days in November could be the best opportunity you have to create and send a discount campaign to your customers. 

When fewer discount-focused campaigns are being sent, competition is less aggressive and you have a better chance to capture your customers’ attention—especially since you’ll have fewer days to do so in 2019 than you’ve had in recent years.


Shopping Days Before Cyber Weekend Shopping Days After Cyber Weekend
2016 23 26
2017 22 27
2018 21 28
2019 17 22

Key takeaways

This is just the beginning of this series of articles about discounting during the holiday season. Why did we choose to focus on this particular topic first? For years, I worked on the agency side with retail clients and on the brand side as well before I came to Klaviyo, so I’m no stranger to the level of scrutiny that brands place on how to figure out their discount strategy—not just for Cyber Weekend, but for the whole year.  

The sheer amount of work brands put into planning was the primary reason we chose to look deeper into what could help you make those discounts stand-out even more to your customers and thereby drive more growth for your business.

Here are a few key things to take away from this first installment: 

1 | First and foremost, as you’re scheduling your discount offers, do so with the understanding that you’re not operating in a vacuum—there are thousands of other brands competing for your customers’ attention. If you’re set on sending your emails during Cyber Weekend, use Smart Send Time to run a few tests in advance and get a better sense of when to send your emails so they’ll have the most impact for your brand. Then, use the feature again over Cyber Weekend.  

2 | If you can be more flexible with the timing of your discount-focused campaigns this year, closely review the volume of discount-focused campaigns brands sent in recent years (see the chart above). You can clearly see there are some hot days and some cool days for your messages. While it might seem contrary to what other brands are planning to do, sending your best discount on one of those cooler days may help you see higher opens rates, clickthroughs, and revenue—especially if you include a message indicating that this is a pre-Cyber Weekend deal that represents your best offer of the season so the time to buy is now.

3 | If you’re planning to send a great offer to a broader set of your customers over Cyber Weekend, send it to your VIP customers first to give them early access. VIP customers love to be the first to get deals, so this is a great way to continue their advocacy for your brand.

4 | Finally, be mindful that Thanksgiving and Cyber Weekend 2019 fall almost a week later than they did last year. This means you’ll have fewer days to drive sales after the weekend. Being strategic might mean you need to deploy some of your best content sooner rather than later.

So what’s next in this series of articles about discounting during the holidays? 

In the coming weeks, you’ll learn more about the results brands saw while using “dollars-off” discounts versus percentage-based discounts in their subject lines. You’ll also get a glimpse into the competition that takes place post-Cyber Weekend, with a special look at which days of the week seem to be the most competitive and tips on how you can navigate them. You’ll also learn more about the marketing strategies you should use post-Christmas to win the dollars that people received in the form of gift cards during the holidays. 

It’s a lot of information, but everything we’ll cover in this series will include actionable items for things you still have plenty of time put in place or adjust before Cyber Weekend 2019 is officially in full effect.

Wondering when you should send your holiday marketing emails? Explore this live dashboard and view a heatmap to help you plan your strategy.


Explore the live holiday email marketing dashboard


For more insights, ideas, and resources to help you have a successful Cyber Weekend, check out the ecommerce holiday marketing hub.


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