That crazy time of year is coming around again for the retail sector. Long established in the United States the phenomena that is the Black Friday Sales has reached across the Atlantic to European shores and has now firmly taken root. Black Friday is held on the Friday after the Thanksgiving holiday in the US. Despite this distinctly American link the sales have been adopted elsewhere across the World by savvy marketers seeking to cash in on this bonanza weekend of volume sales.

2014 saw a 74% increase in turnover on 2013 in the UK market with sales topping £800 million (US$1.269bn). This double-digit growth is present in other European and global markets too with 2015 set to smash records across the globe.

Lady standing watching shoppers

The online e-sibling, Cyber Monday, celebrates it’s tenth year in 2015 and marks the busiest calendar day for the e-commerce community. Falling directly on the Monday after Thanksgiving, Cyber Monday ties up a long weekend of hard retail sales. 2014 saw Cyber Monday turnover break the $2bn (£1.31bn) barrier in the US market alone, with a reported 17% increase in sales on 2013.

The European sector too has seen astronomical growth with UK sales reported at £650m (US$1.03bn) and Germany £250m (US$397m) in 2014 with large growth predicted for 2015.

Enjoy email marketing success this holiday season

It is not only sales figures that are up over the weekend; a large spike is also seen in conversion rates, marking the consumer’s willingness to spend at this time and claim themselves precious Christmas bargains. An effective Email campaign can mean great success for you, provided you handle it correctly.

There are statistics galore and I could write a hefty long article on those stats alone, but as promised here are the first 6 of 12 straightforward steps that you should be taking to maximise the effectiveness of your campaign… Plan ahead and reap the rewards with these 12 Essential Steps to Black Friday & Cyber Monday Email Marketing Success!

Step One - Build Targeted Opt-in Lists

Start to generate buzz and excitement around your sales by swapping your newsletter sign-up forms for Black Friday/Cyber Monday specific ones. Prepare Popups and banners on-site that really promote your sales and give a feeling of exclusivity - they won’t want to miss out if they’re going to hear about the exclusive deals first in their inbox. Make sure you employ best practice and use double opt-ins.

For new subscribers add an additional checkbox to opt in for all future marketing emails. Give them the choice to opt in on emails outside of your sales campaign and don’t add them to your other email lists without their say so.

Keep it a good clean fight!
Keep it a good clean fight and maintain the respect of your subscribers!

Owing to the volume of emails sent in the run up to and the duration of the sales weekend most e-commerce stores run a separate subscriber list so as to avoid upsetting their regulars. Good practice is to notify current subscribers by email and offer them the opportunity to sign up for the amazing deals you’ll be offering and let them know they’ll hear about them by email first.

Step Two - Design - Think Mobile, Think Responsive

Be creative with your design and most importantly think mobile! With over a quarter of US sales in 2014 coming through mobile devices it is an absolute must to send mobile friendly, responsively designed emails and equally important to have a fully responsive website. In 2015 responsive design is no longer an option but is absolutely vital. Users simply close a website when they cannot view it properly on whatever device they are using. As with email, one size fits all doesn't cut it anymore.

It is also worth bearing in mind that over 50% of browsing traffic came in via mobile devices in 2014. This disparity between mobile browsing volume and actual sales highlights how mobile e-commerce is still a problem for many users and ultimately retailers. A lack of decent responsive design could be a part of the problem, but there must be more to the story of why users part with less cash over mobile devices. The same rule of responsiveness apply to emails.

It is vital to design for mobile - think responsive design in email and on your website

Email design needs to be catchy too. Yours will be one of many sales emails your subscribers will open and eye catching design is vital. Don't be afraid to add colour. A majority of campaigns overuse black in order to form a bond between the name and the look. It is a mistake to believe that this is essential and there is nothing wrong with using black as a highlight colour within the design rather than as a primary.

Step Three - Relate your Products

In preparation for the sales use your spare time to carry out essential housekeeping on your e-commerce store. One vital area e-commerce stores often neglect is related products. Set up your products correctly, so if you’re selling a battery operated torch make sure you've related the batteries to go with it and seize the opportunity to increase the overall value of those shopping carts.

Ensure your products are related for up-sells too. A few hours of housekeeping on the back-end of your e-commerce store can make the world of difference to your final sales figures.

Step Four - Create Urgency

Psychology plays a big part in sales success and one of the major influencers in decision making is urgency. By creating urgency in a sales situation we reduce cognitive friction and appeal to the baser instincts of the shopper. It is proven that urgency significantly improves conversion rates as we suspend deliberate thought and act quickly.

There are several ways to create urgency in sales and in email marketing two of the most effective are scarcity and time countdown.

Clock counting down

Scarcity works by highlighting the limited availability of a sales item. This can easily be achieved by limiting the number of products at a particular price point. When you have “only three more remaining at this price” you are far more likely to make a conversion.

Time countdown can raise anxiety and urgency in a person. In the modern world time is evermore precious so we are programmed from a young age to be sensitive to it. By including a time countdown in your email you can really drive people to your site and drastically increase open rates as they won’t want to wait or put it off until later only to forget.

Amazon employ this tactic with great success. In fact they combine both methods together to create a highly effective psychological cocktail of pressure, with a limited number of items available for a limited time.

Example of Amazon sales tactics
Amazon’s use of both scarcity and time countdown is highly effective.

A great script to use for timer countdown in an email can be found here from the folks at The few minutes it takes to set up are well worth the benefits that this effective sales tactic will bring to your campaign.

Step Five - Automate, Personalise and Think Timing

Email marketing automation is one of the most powerful tools available to the modern email marketer. The ability to deliver targeted, personalised emails that are automatically generated makes this a must for email marketing success, especially for the retail sector.

Setting up automation can be a complex affair but once mastered is worth its weight in gold. It is also one of the processes that when repeated a few times becomes second nature and an absolute must have to all. The days of one size fits all emails has gone. To get decent open rates on your emails you need to personalise and deliver a subject that is of interest to the subscriber and will make them want to open, read and click through.

email delivery timing

Personalisation is just one crucial factor, the timing of deliveries over Black Friday and Cyber Monday is also critical. If you can deliver in the busiest periods your email will be near the top of a subscriber's inbox when they come to sit down and partake in the sales. It is not unusual to send several emails throughout the course of the actual sales day and to increase visibility there are better times to be sending so you are nearer the top of the commonly date ordered inboxes.

There is an early morning start with shoppers jumping online at breakfast from 6am and hunting for early morning bargains. 15% of sales are completed before 9am. Again around lunchtime there is a spike in sales from desktops as workers take lunch. 11:00 to 12:00 and then from 13:00 to 14:00 see's 7% of all desktop sales completed.

The real peak time for sales comes between 6pm and 9pm so it is wise to hit inboxes around 6pm as when users logon post work they tend to check their email first. There are also the commuters to consider as this is also the peak time for mobile sales. People on their commute back home browse the offers and start to hunt for bargains.

Step Six - Build Suspense and Gather Data

Drip feed your emails about the upcoming sales in the preceding weeks. This slow feed of information generates awareness and a level of suspense about the impending sales you’re having and also means you increase the likelihood of your store becoming a priority stop come sales day.

In addition it provides an opportunity to gauge interest in products and to finalise your sales strategy. Analysis of the analytics data you gather in this period can be a pointer to what you should focus yours sales on and ultimately to what will draw subscribers to your site come the actual sales day. As I mentioned in step five, the application of analytics data with cleverly set-up email marketing automation can be a real sales driver.

Email Marketing Automation

How you use that data is important. For example, if you run an electronics store you could send out an email highlighting impending discounts on five major brands of television, with each brand linked to the relevant brand section on your site.

With automation setup, the system will be able to analyse and see which brands your subscribers clicked on and what particular sets they viewed. If your system then knows in advance that User A is only interested in a particular brand whereas User B is after a 55” television then it can leverage that data. Comes sales day you can target both users with automated personalised emails and ultimately increase the likelihood of a conversion.

So… email marketing success?

In short if you follow the steps above you are well on your way to a successful campaign. Black Friday and Cyber Monday are now considered the two most important dates in the retail calendar. Overall holiday sales statistics are reliant on this long weekend and mark the make or break point. By planning ahead and planning well you can guarantee yourself a good Christmas!

In part two we’ll be looking at how to offer exclusivity, the importance of the subject line and four other essentials for email marketing success.

Click for Part Two

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