As the economy outperforms nearly all expectations, media outlets are parsing through all available data to validate good news, or look for the first indicators that signal alarm. With holiday retail performance being a popular indicator of a thriving economy, CNN Money, among others, reports that the 2017 holiday shopping season was the strongest in seven years. Here, we highlight three notable takeaways for digital marketers from Mintel Comperemedia's 2017 Retail Holiday Email Marketing Review which explores email marketing data from major retailers from Black Friday, Cyber Monday and Green Monday through New Year's Day.

1. The holiday season negatively affected average email read rates

Among the thirteen major retailers included in the report, monthly email volume during the 2017 holiday season was consistently higher than during the same period the year prior, according to Mintel ePerformance/eDataSource. However, read rates for seven of these retailers during the holiday season were below their 2017 annual average. The high-volume email period between Thanksgiving and Christmas correlated to a sustained reduction in average daily read rates. While email sends on Thanksgiving, Black Friday and other retail holidays aimed for maximum relevancy, they were not met with higher read rates. Read rates increased after Christmas, peaking on January 2, 2018 – once the holiday season was over and many consumers were back at work. Most notable was the surge in average read rates on January 2nd, suggesting many consumers avoided their inbox throughout the holiday season. Retailers should be mindful of when consumers prefer to engage with their inbox and consider getting ahead of the holiday shopping season so as not to get lost.

2. Cyber Monday was not a priority for retailers

Compared to the run-up to Black Friday, as well as the surge in volume on the day itself, emails mentioning Cyber Monday were mostly limited to day-of sends. This suggests that many retailers ceded ground to Black Friday and the post-Thanksgiving weekend to the original shopping holiday. Further diluting the impact of the day, Amazon marks Cyber Monday into a week-long event. The addition of Green Monday and post-holiday offers in recent years compounds the issue of when sales and promotions are most effective. Consumers are knowledgeable; they have come to expect discounts and special promotions from Thanksgiving through New Years’ Day and will engage at their convenience, rather than be primed for a single opportunity.

3. Brick and mortar competed with online shopping on timeliness and customer experience

Stand-out email campaigns from Best Buy, Target and Kohl’s demonstrated how retailers with brick and mortar locations can compete with Amazon. Christmas Eve sends from Best Buy and Target offered last-minute shoppers a chance to order online and pick-up prior to closing; Best Buy offered in-home consultations to ensure big ticket purchases were installed and connected; Kohl’s hyped in-store appearances by Santa. Retailers should be mindful that while price and convenience matter, they are not everything. Unique, positive customer experiences should not be overlooked.
Eric Fahey is a Research Manager at Mintel Comperemedia, where he specializes in email and digital marketing, consumer trends, and competitive intelligence.