Holiday 2015 is finally behind us.  It was especially challenging for many retailers, given the unseasonably warm weather in the eastern part of the country.  Nothing stifles winter season buying more than spring-like weather.  

Here are our key impressions (a few already referenced in this space) of email activity during this time.

  • Inevitably, in the white-hot competitive retail hustle, emails were highly promotional.  Most subject lines and associated content clearly reference various types of direct discounting.
    • “Percent-off” references were the most heavily used, variously, from 20% up to 70%, with the preponderance on the lower end of that range.
    • “Sale and Save” were also heavily used, but each at about one-third the level of percent-off.
    • “Free-shipping” was used, but at a surprisingly low-level, at least in the subject lines; i.e., at about one-third the level of “Sale” and Save.  But “Free-shipping” appears very widely in email body content, and has become less and less an incentive differentiator.
  • In certain cuts of our activity volume data, we’ve seen the number of mailed campaigns increase substantially year-over-year, while deployed mail volumes have increased much more slowly, remained flat or even decreased.  This suggests an increased use of targeted mailings.
  • Nevertheless, for the Black Friday and Cyber Monday periods, again based on how we cut the data, some year-over-year read rates were down.  
  • Subject lines for the best-performing emails were more liable than others to be personalized for targeted buyers, featuring most-likely-to-buy merchandise items and categories.  It’s becoming clear that referencing targeted merchandise in the subject lines can often trump use there of even aggressive discounting.
  • We saw many more (than last year) Black Friday related campaigns being deployed 30-45 days before Black Friday.  
  • Cyber Monday seems to have grown past “Monday.”  There was a lot of new promotional activity leveraging the name, but marking events which extended or began well into that week.
  • ‘Green Monday’ (12/14), was supposed to have been another big hook on which to hang Holiday-related promotional activity.  It was not.  We detected surprisingly little messaging around it (at least not filtered by subject line), by surprisingly few mailers — and none by eBay, who’re reputed to have created the event.
  • A few final tidbits suggesting that not all Holiday email advertising reflects the promotional activity of traditional retailing: 
    • Marriott sent a series of emails, extremely personalized and targeted (by name and geography), from its CEO, which were essentially a Holiday greeting/thank you.  Read rates were almost 25%
    • Starbucks did a Holiday BOGO offer, with a 33% read rate.
    • REI sent an email series touting its new policy of being closed on Black Friday. (Subject line:  #OptOutside With Us This Friday). Read rates: over 18%

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