2020 has been a strange and unprecedented year with few certainties. If there’s anything you can bank on amid these crazy times, though, it’s that Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, and Cyber Monday will still come around. Nothing short of the actual apocalypse could make these crucial post-Thanksgiving sales days disappear from the calendar, which means your Shopify businesses should be prepared.
It doesn’t take a business tycoon to know that Black Friday is a bigger and bigger deal every year. According to Adobe Analytics, digital sales on Black Friday 2019 totalled $7.2 billion, up 14% from the “holiday” in 2018. When you add in revenue from Cyber Monday and Thanksgiving Day, consumers spent $21 billion online between November 28th and December 2nd 2019— and that’s just in the US.
The nature of this crazy year could push those numbers up even higher. Though the amount consumers are willing to spend overall might be affected by economic hardship and uncertainty, there’s little doubt that a greater percentage of the roughly 165 million Americans who shopped over Thanksgiving weekend in 2018 will shop solely online to avoid the added stress of social distancing.
All that is to say that the opportunity to cash in on Black Friday and/or Cyber Monday this year could be bigger than ever— if your Shopify store is ready, that is. Read on for our complete, comprehensive guide to running an effective and creative Black Friday email marketing campaign, complete with advice on when and how to send emails that stand out during the most wonderful (and busiest) time of the year.
Spend Autumn Getting Your Customers to Fall in Love with Your Emails
You probably already know how important it is to cultivate a good email list of enthusiastic customers, but it’s more important than ever in the months and weeks leading up to Thanksgiving. The fall (starting with back to school season) is a great time to try and expand your ranks of email subscribers by reaching out with clear, tangible value in exchange for the signup.
Not only is it a good moment to turn website visitors and potential leads into new subscribers, but it’s a useful time to test and learn. Try out various email subject lines and newsletter content to see if any approach is particularly successful. Just as importantly as figuring out what your audience likes is when they’re more receptive to emails from you. Try mixing up the scheduling with your emails to see if they’re more receptive to hearing from you at a particular time in the week (by measuring both open rate and clickthrough rate for these emails), and apply what you learn to that crucial late November window.
When Should You Send Black Friday Emails?
Christmas seems to come earlier every year. It’s not unheard of these days to start seeing holiday ads in early November, regardless of where Thanksgiving falls on the calendar.
That doesn’t mean you should email your list on the morning of November 1st, but a little planning and advanced notice provides a bigger window of time for your customers to learn about your Black Friday sale and gives you a chance to build some hype.
The best time to send out your first email is roughly two and three weeks before the big day. If you’ve laid the groundwork by getting customer emails, keeping them engaged with a newsletter, and trying out various sending schedules and segmentation strategies you may already know when your customers are most likely to open your emails and click through to your site, so pick the date and time within that window that works best.
If you don’t have that sort of granular data, though, don’t sweat it. While every industry is a little bit different, there’s a wealth of data suggesting Tuesday is the best time to email your audience. Depending on the study, Thursday is often either the second-best or best time, which will come in handy in this case given that Thursday comes before— you guessed it— (Black) Friday.
So with that in mind, your best course of action is to send the first of your black Friday emails on either the first Thursday of the month (so exactly three weeks before Thanksgiving), or else on the Tuesday or Thursday of the following week. For 2020, that would be either November 5th, 10th, or 12gh. This gives your customers a bit of a break from any October/Halloween-related marketing you might be running, but gives them enough notice to put your Shopify store on their holiday radar.
The Structure of a Black Friday/Cyber Monday Email Campaign
Before we delve into the best practices to make sure each of your emails cut through the holiday marketing chatter, it’s important to plot out the overarching campaign ahead of time. While there’s room for the exact cadence and frequency to vary depending on the size of your business and the relationship you have with your customers, it’s generally a good idea to make sure your campaign includes most (or all) of the following emails in order to make sure your audience not only knows about the sale, but how urgent it is to cash in on the year’s biggest savings before it’s too late.
Email 1: Black Friday announcement
This is when you let your audience know that they can expect some deals from you. It’s fine if you’re still figuring out exactly what kind of deals you’re comfortable offering at this stage, but the goal is to set the expectation for savings and get your email subscribers to start to think about how you can fit their holiday shopping needs. If there are any extra-special offers for your most dedicated fans (the chance to shop deals early or save even bigger, perhaps), share that information at this stage as well. If you can get them to opt in to hearing more from you about the sale before it starts, even better. Ultimately, though, the goal is to prime them for what’s coming next.
When to send?
November 5th, 10th, or 12th, with an optional reminder closer to the sale date.
Sample Subject Line
- “Brace Yourself: Black Friday is Coming”
- “Mark Your Calendar for the Year’s Best Savings”
- “The Countdown to Holiday Savings Is On”
Example (and why it works)
This email from Apple does a good job of building the hype, letting you know to stay tuned without giving away too much specifics that might deter from any nearer-term sales. The call to action encouraging their email subscribers to “save the dates” is a useful touch, giving Apple data about who’s especially interested in their holiday deals.
Email 3: The mid-sale scarcity/countdown alert
Once your audience knows about your big Black Friday sale, the next step is to remind them that they don’t have until December 24th to save. Let those who didn’t already convert know that they’re on the verge of missing out on your steepest discount of the year if they don’t act ASAP by creating a sense of urgency and/or scarcity, two of the most potent forces for marketing.
Using a countdown timer can let your email subscribers know exactly how long until your offer disappears. If you have the ability to closely monitor your inventory in the midst of this hectic weekend, highlight popular items that will soon be out of stock. Building that sense of holiday FOMO is what it takes to get your audience to put down the leftover Turkey and start shopping. And for those who may have missed your last email, sending this reminder lets them know what’s up before it’s too late.
When to send?
After Black Friday proper, but before the end of Cyber Monday. Ultimately, this depends on the length of your sale.
Sample subject lines
- “Only Hours Left to Claim XX% Off and Free Shipping”
- “Save xx% on Faves While They’re Still in Stock”
- “Time’s Almost Up on the Sale of the Year!
Example (and why it works)
This Greats.com email creates a sense of scarcity, with the use of “moving fast” and “almost sold out” to describe particular products. Even better, it lists out item prices and conveys that shipping is free. If your email took this concept and also incorporated more product images and info on how deeply discounted each item is, it’d be even better than this.
This from reMarkable gets to the heart of the matter by using a dynamic countdown timer so people know exactly when the sale ends, no matter when they opened the email. From there, include a reminder of how much they can save by acting quickly, drive them to the sight with a good call to action, and get ready to print that shipping label.
Email 4: the “sale extension” / Cyber Monday email
Just because your audience thinks your sale is ending at a certain time doesn’t mean it has to. Let anyone who missed out on your initial Black Friday sale that all hope is not lost by “extending” your expired sale, or else reintroducing a new one for Cyber Monday.
When to send?
Cyber Monday or later.
Sample subject lines
- “The Year’s Biggest Deal Isn’t Over Yet! Save XX% on Cyber Monday.”
- “We’re Not Ready to Say Goodbye to These Savings Just Yet.”
- “Rebooting Savings for Cyber Monday”
Example (and why it works)
This National Geographic email conveys the point perfectly, letting readers know that Black Friday isn’t yet over, and making it very clear in the body of the email how much they can save.
Best Practices and Tips for Success— Before and After Cyber Monday
You can and should put your own spin on when and how you email to prospective customers about your biggest salve event of the year (oh— and make sure it is your biggest sale of the year if you say it is). But there are a few key elements that each successful Black Friday or Cyber Monday email has in common.
Put your deal front and center
Everyone who’s used an online recipe knows how frustrating it is to scroll past a 3000 word essay just to find a list of ingredients. Your audience is already busy enough during the holidays, so definitely don’t assume they’re hanging your every word. Skip the small talk and get right to stating how much your readers will save and how long they have to shop. Put a percentage in and an end date in front of people and they’ll have everything they need to know. Aside from a (very short) clever line about holiday shopping, everything else is just a waste of time.
Make sure those savings are legit
If you want to stand out and compel checkouts, your deal has to be something relatively special— at least compared to what’s on offer the rest of the year. The holidays are a big time for comparison shopping, so make sure your offer is competitive without eating all the way through your margins. Think about what percentages or price cuts might get someone on the fence about shopping with you to enthusiastically smash that checkout button, and then share that number with the world. After all, nobody ever bailed on Thanksgiving dinner early to save five or even ten percent.
Get a little more creative with calls to action
Unless your business somehow takes orders via email replies, you’ll need a clear, compelling way to drive people to your site. Make sure the link to visit your Shopify store is very prominent in the body of the email, and use its text to reiterate that anyone who clicks on it is capitalizing on a chance to save.
Depending on how you’re segmenting your Cyber Monday deals, you can even use multiple calls to action to drive people to particular areas of the store, whether it’s by product category, discount level, or any other meaningful categorization that can help shoppers more easily find exactly the products and savings they’re after. Heck, put clickable links to some of your top sellers right in the email if you want.
Show off the goods— and hone in on what people want
Whether it’s highlighting a signature “hero” product with a holiday-themed visual twist or simply letting people see how much they’ll save on specific products, there are plenty of useful ways to show off the goods. Here’s one quick example that showcases a watch and ties it back to clever copy that creates a sense of urgency.
If your shop sells a broad set of products, consider displaying dynamic content based on what you know about a particular shopper’s past browsing behavior and interests to hone in on what they’ll want. This is particularly useful for customers who have left abandoned carts in the past. Adding images of products that your subscribers have considered buying and showing them how much they can save during your sale could be just what they need to see to finally pull the trigger.
Focus on what matters
Creating a successful BFCM campaign is not about having 50k followers on Instagram.
It's not about spending thousands of dollars on FB ads. Or offering discounts that last for weeks.
It’s largely a matter of showing up in the right place at the right time— multiple times— with a compelling offer spelled out clearly in your email body and, ideally, subject line.
Luckily there are tools out there to help you. Tools that make sure you send relevant messages to the right people and stop sending them when they convert - there's nothing worse than getting a "don't miss out" email if you already spent half your income on that store.
One of those tools, you've guessed it, is Pathfinder.
It's the only tool that builds the campaign structure for you depending on your needs - no cookie cutter/pre-built templates.
It also writes the emails for you, with subject lines and copy that have been tested and proven, all in the unique style of your brand (you can make all the edits you want).
Pathfinder uses dynamic content to create thousands of personalized emails, predicting what your contacts like best based on their shopping/browsing behavior.
And then, it reports the results back to you and even comes up with improvement suggestions if a campaign isn't doing as well as it should. Make this holiday season your most successful yet, and try Pathfinder for free 👇