Amazon is sending the most Black Friday emails before the actual sales day, but overall, these 13 top online retailers did not use a heavy hand sending Black Friday deals early in the first two weeks of November.

While consumers may feel that their email inboxes are flooded with Black Friday-related messages, an analysis of top online retailers’ email campaigns tells a different story.

Only 122 emails campaigns from 13 top retailers referenced the term “Black Friday” for the two-week period of Oct. 31-Nov. 14. This is a mere fraction of the 18,136 email campaigns these retailers sent during this period, according to exclusive data from email performance data provider eDataSource.

The retailers eDataSource analyzed were: Amazon.com Inc. (No. 1 in the Internet Retailer 2018 Top 1000), eBay Inc. (No. 4 in the Internet Retailer 2018 Online Marketplaces), Dick’s Sporting Goods (No. 54 in the Top 100), Barnes & Noble Booksellers Inc. (No. 74), Target Corp. (No. 17), Walmart Inc. (No. 3), Kmart.com (owned by Sears Holdings Corp., No. 24), Kohl’s Corp. (No. 18), Macy’s Inc. (No. 6), J.C. Penney Co. Inc. (No. 31), Staples Inc. (No. 5), Office Depot Inc. (No. 14) and Best Buy Co. Inc. (No. 8).

On average, 0.67% these 13 retailers sent during this two-week period referenced Black Friday. Amazon was the only retailer that sent more Black Friday-themed email campaigns this year compared with the comparable period in 2017, Nov. 1-Nov. 15. In 2018, 0.87% of Amazon’s emails during this time period were Black Friday-themed, compared with 0.25% last year. For the remaining 12 retailers, they sent in aggregate 0.87% Black Friday-themed emails in 2018, compared with 1.21% in this time period in 2017.

While this is a small percent of retailers’ email campaigns compared with the high-stakes nature of the season, John Landsman, director of strategy and analytics at eDataSource, is not surprised.

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“Typically, these emails don’t really ramp up with major Black Friday-theme-related activity until three to four days before Black Friday,” he says.

In 2018, Amazon also sent the most Black Friday-themed emails in terms of overall volume at 52 campaigns, Best Buy at 22 and Walmart at 21, according to eDataSource. However, for all three of these retailers, that only represented 0.4% of their total email send during the period. Dick’s Sporting Goods sent the highest percentage of Black Friday emails compared with its total campaign send during the two-week period, at 1.7% of its total send.


Within the Black Friday-related emails, 50% of the campaigns reference “deals,” while 23% referenced the word “early” and 28% referenced both “deals” and “early.”

For the email campaigns that referenced “deals,” those in general did not have higher open rates compared with other Black Friday emails sent by the respective retailers, nor other emails sent during this time period, Landsman says. Subject lines with the world “early” in it, however, performed better.

“Early” appears in the Black Friday-themed subject lines of five of these analyzed brands, most of whom make significant use of the word,” Landsman says. “[Open] rates for these subject lines appear to outperform other baseline [open] rates for these respective brands.”

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Here is a sample of the most-opened emails:

Although the bankruptcy of Toys R Us left a gaping hole in the toy market for this holiday season, eDataSource finds that the word “toys” did not appear in any of the subject lines teasing Black Friday. And only five of the 13 retailers used the word “toys” at all in a subject line during these two weeks. Those emails did not have higher open rates compared with other emails for the respective brands during the period.

Overall, online retailers launched a lot more email campaigns during this two-week period compared with last year. The median number of campaigns retailers sent was 424 in 2018 compared with 262 in 2017, a 62% increase in campaign activity.

“Almost all of [the retailers] increased their year-over-year campaign send activity,” Landsman says. “The only exceptions were eBay, J.C. Penney and Office Depot.”

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The encouraging news for retailers is that, although they increased the number of campaigns, their open rates didn’t suffer greatly. EDataSource uses a 20% open rate as a benchmark if a campaign has a “good” open rate. During the analysis period, 43% of the studied campaigns had a 20% or higher open rate versus 45% of campaigns a year earlier.

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