Consumer demand may come and go, but when it comes to Black Friday, the demand for holiday deals remains in force. 

Black Friday is a critical window of opportunity for brands to get their message across to the right people at the right time. Marketers need software they can rely on that will not only personalize content but also manage the sudden demand for a massive volume of messages across all channels. 

Scalability is the name of the game in martech. 

For Black Friday 2021, the Emarsys customer engagement platform blew past historical numbers across nearly all channels year over year. Check out the results, see which channels were popular and which ones were less so, and make note of trends as you work on planning your 2022 marketing calendar. 

Data is also available in our Black Friday press release.

Black Friday Stats: Smooth Scaling 

Last year’s Black Friday was a special and unique event as we walked into our first digitally led Black Friday. We busted records then…and we’re doing it again this year! 

This scalability is made possible thanks to Emarsys experts in engineering, product, and support. These individuals worked tirelessly behind the scenes to ensure that the system ran smoothly during the seasonal spike. They’re also constantly making improvements so that marketers can enjoy new goodies and smoother operations all year round. (Santa’s workshop elves have nothing on our team.) 

Black Friday by the Numbers: Channel Results

We broke a billion messages.

Hold on, let’s make that bigger to properly reflect how we’re celebrating: 

We broke a billion messages!

That’s right. On Friday November 26, the Emarsys platform sent out more than 1 billion messages in a single day — 1.2 billion, in fact. Note: Messages include email, SMS, push, in-app, and web channel.

Black Friday Emarsys Total Messages Sent 2021

Email alone broke the 1 billion mark, with more than 1.1 billion emails sent. 

Check out this year-over-year comparison for channels and real-time interaction (RTI) triggers:

Black Friday Recap Table 01 (Black Friday YoY)

Looking at these numbers, it’s clear that Emarsys users are making greater use of their apps and also that they’re keenly interested in real-time interactions. However, there’s something interesting about SMS that you don’t want to miss. Check out how channels are used on Black Friday in comparison with a normal, baseline kind of day: 

Black Friday Recap Table 02 (BF Baseline Change)

The increase in SMS usage specifically for Black Friday was stunning, almost 900%. This increase makes sense, too, considering research shows that SMS is highly effective for creating immediate awareness, even more so than email. For time-sensitive situations like essential Black Friday notifications (flash sales, low-stock warnings, and so on), SMS should be a marketer’s go-to channel. 

Cyber Monday by the Numbers: Channel Results

Not to be outshone by Black Friday, Cyber Monday boasted its own impressive results, and we have an early look at those numbers as well.

Black Friday Recap Table 03 (Cyber Monday YoY)

Guess what? 

We broke a billion messages…again!

Here’s what that looks like in comparison to an average shopping day:

Black Friday Recap 04 (Cyber Monday Baseline Change)

Interestingly, there’s a spike in SMS usage again, although not quite as dramatic as it was for Black Friday. 

A Quick Recap for Singles Day 2021

We didn’t wait until Black Friday to start flexing our scalability muscles — it started with Singles Day. 

Singles Day is an 11-day shopping event that ends on November 11. This global e-commerce extravaganza originated in China in 2009. If you’re not familiar with Singles Day, it’s actually the single biggest e-commerce event of the year, far outpacing Black Friday. (Alibaba and brought in approximately $139 billion for the 2021 event.)

This year for Singles Day, we saw a 58.1% increase in email sends.

Compared with our regular baseline for the day-to-day volume of messages, on Singles Day we saw increases across almost all channels: 

Black Friday Recap Table 05 (Singles Day Baseline Change)

Do you see what I see?* Although the spike in SMS usage is not as dramatic as what occurred for Black Friday, it’s still noticeable and comparable to Cyber Monday. 

* Christmas song pun intended.

Black Friday 2021 Spending, Early Results 

We can talk about scale and mind-boggling volumes all day, but let’s get real — in the end, marketing messages need to translate into revenue. So how did the dollars turn out? 

It’s still early days, but it looks like online retail took a dip. E-commerce raked in $8.9 billion in Black Friday sales, a decrease from $9 billion in 2020. This marks the first time that Black Friday e-commerce saw a decline. 

A part of that change might be attributed to some shoppers shifting back to physical retail. According to Sensormatic Solutions, early data indicates that 2021 traffic at brick-and-mortar retail stores saw an increase of 47.5% from the previous year, although that increase hasn’t yet brought foot traffic numbers back to pre-COVID levels. 

At the time of this writing, total Black Friday revenue from physical retail is not yet published in news outlets.

We can tell you that for the Black Friday sales period (Friday the 26th to Monday the 29th), we saw more than 637 million email opens via the Emarsys platform (up 101% year-over-year).

Also worth noting: According to the National Retail Federation, 61% of surveyed shoppers began shopping for the holidays before the Thanksgiving weekend, a slight increase from 59% the previous year. This is backed up by Deloitte’s finding that 70% of shoppers began shopping before November in 2021, an increase from 66% in 2020. 

Trends and Takeaways

So, for marketers, what does all of this mean, from the stats to the tech to the changes in shopping behavior? 

Takeaway 1: Get personalized. 

When the volume of messages rises but the spending either is flat or decreasing, marketers can’t rely on brand power and a discount percentage that may or may not be meaningful. Using personalization (especially if it’s based on first-party data) and AI for automation and product recommendations, marketers can deliver 1:1 experiences that stand out by being tailored to the individual’s interests.

Takeaway 2: Reliable martech matters. 

Whether it’s an especially big day for consumer shopping or a regular old day for your brand, your marketing tech should plain and simply work. Make sure your platform has the agility to perform how you need it, when you need it. 

Takeaway 3: Don’t forget about SMS.

Based on the numbers for not one but three major shopping events, clearly marketers know that when timing is critical, they need to rely on SMS to help seal the deal. But no one can claim Black Friday is the only day of the year when timing is critical for a brand. Any customer journey is dotted with critical milestones where SMS can be a key player, and automation can help you send messages at those moments. It might be worth taking a fresh look for ways to maximize the potential of this versatile channel.

Takeaway 4: CX is an omnichannel experience.

Email may still rule the roost when it comes to channels, but customer experience is truly omnichannel. Marketers need to meet customers on the communication channels they prefer. 

Of course, that’s just our two (four?) cents about what you should take away from this year’s Black Friday. Emarsys CEO Joanna Milliken has her own hot take on how marketers can optimize engagement: 

Final Thoughts: The Holiday Season Is Spreading

Just like my waistline after a big, delicious Thanksgiving dinner, the holiday season is continuing to spread. Black Friday is here to stay and will be a major force in Q4 for years and years to come, but marketers should be aware that, as eMarketer put it, “the holiday season is stretching out and flattening out.” 

Consumers aren’t locked into Black Friday as their only hope for a good deal. To ensure their customers keep their brand top of mind, marketers need to deliver clear and personalized communication throughout the holiday season — before, during, and after major shopping events like Black Friday. 

To conclude, here are a few brilliant words shared during Retail Revival 2021

“So as we look for Black Friday, it’s really getting out in front of it. It’s really all about the consumer. They’re showing that they don’t want to wait because of their experience last year and they’re going to start shopping sooner. So how do we make sure we’re part of that conversation? So that’s how we kind of look at it for this year. And it’s really a great opportunity because historically, to get sell-in on that, to get deals to work with all of our different business units on it, they tend to have been more reserved because it was like, ‘this is the historical date, this is what we’re comping up against,’ and now we’re not looking to comp up against exact dates, if you will. So, it’s less about Black Friday, Cyber Monday, Cyber Week, and it’s more about a collective Q4 and holiday season, and how do we just maximize that and make sure that we’re not leaving any money on the table?”

(Watch the complete interview on-demand.)

Lindsay Ball Headshot
Lindsay Ball
Sr. Digital Marketing Manager, Instant Brands

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