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

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published on November 14, 2019. It’s been updated to reflect the most current data and insights. 

This is the first in a series of holiday email marketing benchmark reports. 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 already that time of year again. 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 $28.4 Billion dollars in sales during Cyber Weekend 2019, according to Adobe, which is a 39 percent increase from TechCrunch’s report of $20.5 Billion dollars in ecommerce sales 2018. That’s really impressive growth, and 2020’s growth will be nothing short of dramatic

In the coming weeks you’ll see a number of blog posts aimed at predicting what will happen during Cyber Weekend 2020 (Thursday, November 26th through Monday, November 28th). But as we’ve learned so far, 2020 has a mind of its own. There are new dynamics at play, which will have to be unpacked in as many neat little packages as 2020 will allow. 

Analysis from last year showed Thursday through Monday of Cyber Weekend are important days for online retailers, but they’re not the only days during the season that brands should pay close attention to. This year, there are a few more nuances you need to be aware of.

For many, it may feel like you’ve already gone through a Cyber Weekend-style sprint in the Spring and Summer. This year has represented the single greatest shift to ecommerce the world has ever seen. Research has shown that 90 percent of consumers are now shopping online, which has driven revenue from email through the roof. The result? Ecommerce sales are predicted to exceed $1.1 trillion dollars this year, for the first time ever. 

Historically, 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. That’ll be no different this year and consumers will actually spend more this year in ecommerce than they ever have. 

It’s been a difficult year and that means consumers will look to deliver joy through the ritual of gift-giving. Unfortunately, as fewer consumers will be able to travel this year and they aren’t able to easily and safely shop in-person, they’ll turn to ecommerce to fulfill their gifting needs. 

What will be different this year? Brands will start discounting and sending deep discount promotions even earlier. In order to understand just how early these discounts and promotions are happening, you need to look at 2019 data to understand how it relates. 

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. 

But 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 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 311,000 campaigns sent by 19,000 brands during the holiday season last year (November 1st through December 31st, 2019), which represented $1.2 billion 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 311,000 campaigns sent by 19,500 brands during the 2019 holiday season that Evan analyzed, 141,000 (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 of the holiday season. As Halloween wraps up, holiday offers start to pop-up with increasing frequency. This year though, the official new start to the holiday season will likely be Amazon Prime Day in October. Many brands, even those who don’t sell on Amazon, are planning sales to capitalize on the anticipated consumer spending. 

But how soon and at what frequency do consumers begin to see discount-focused messages in our inboxes? 

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. 

For example, there was a spike in discount-focused campaigns the Friday before Black Friday (November 22nd, 2019), which was higher than any prior day in November. This is likely pre-BFCM sales a week in advance or reminder of what is coming in a week, according to Evan.

In general, prior to Cyber Weekend 2019 (November 1st – 24th, 2019), the average number of discount campaigns (those emails with discounts in the subject line) sent on a daily basis was fairly consistent: 1,522 per day.

Seemingly overnight, on November 25th discount-focused campaigns skyrocketed to an average of 4,285 sent Monday through Wednesday before Thanksgiving—nearly a 3X 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 9,838. 

Black Friday and Cyber Monday, specifically, accounted for the largest volume of discount-focused campaigns: each saw more than 12,000 of these campaigns sent—an 8X increase from the start of the month.

Competition remained high the Tuesday after Cyber Monday with brands sending 4,330 discount-focused campaigns.

Timeframe Avg. Discount-focused Campaign Sends Per Day
Friday, November 1st to Sunday, November 2th of Thanksgiving Week 2019 1,523
Monday (November 25th) - Wednesday (November 27th) of Thanksgiving Week 2019 4,285
Thanksgiving (Thursday, November 28th, 2019) 7,741
Black Friday (November 29th, 2019) 13,520
Small Business Saturday (November 30th, 2019) 6,997
Sunday (December 1st, 2019) 6,887
Cyber Monday (December 2nd, 2019) 11,77
Giving Tuesday (December 3rd, 2019) 4,330

Here’s a look at the volume of campaign email sends by day between November 1st and December 31st, 2019. The green line represents discount-focused campaigns, while the yellow line represents campaigns focused on something other than a discount.


Normally, you’d want to compare 2019’s data to 2018 in an effort to explore further data and dig deeper into actionable insights. As to be expected, 2020 has put a wrench in that. Rather, this year it’s important to pivot and look at some of what’s happening in 2020.


What we know about 2020 so far

Holiday Calendar: This year’s holiday calendar falls similarly to last year, meaning, Thanksgiving is late again. Last year, there were only 22 days between the Tuesday following Cyber Monday and December 25th. This year, there are 24 days.

In 2019, the top concern was the shorter time between Cyber Weekend and Christmas, meaning email sending and discount strategies would all be compressed. This year, we’ve gained two calendar days, which seems great, but there’s a new dynamic at play.


Shipping Cut Off Times: In years past, guaranteed shipping cut off days allowed ecommerce shoppers to shop up until 72-96 hours prior to Christmas Eve with a guarantee of delivery on Christmas Eve. This year, for standard shipping, cutoff dates could be as early as December 15th, meaning just 15 shopping days. For pricer shipping options, cutoffs could be December 22nd, meaning 17 shopping days. In either case, it’s less time than last year to get your orders to customers before the holidays. 


Covid-19: Businesses across the ecommerce space have been preparing by securing increased inventory. They’re working closely with shipping and logistics providers to understand new deadlines. As everyone has come to learn, Covid-19 is unpredictable. In an effort to avoid an outbreak or downtime, some larger brands have launched a second inventory and fulfillment center. Some have even added a third shift to keep workers more socially distant. Nevertheless, consumers will be shopping earlier to ensure they’re gift-giving is uninterrupted. 


Key takeaways

This is just the beginning of this series of articles about discounting during the holiday season. 

Why 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 for looking deeper into data that can inform how 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 | Optimize send time

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 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 | Send on days where competition is low

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 | Prioritize VIP customers

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 | Consider the calendar

Finally, be mindful that Thanksgiving and Cyber Weekend 2020 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 holiday email marketing benchmarks? 

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 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 in this series will include actionable items for tactics and strategies you still have plenty of time put in place or adjust before Cyber Weekend 2020 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.

Want to set your brand up for a successful holiday season?

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