We’ve never seen a Black Friday like the Black Friday of 2020. The rush to the shops and the delight in finding that one thing you really wanted before it left the shelves didn’t happen this year… at least, not in person.

With some major US retailers deciding not to open their doors at all over the Thanksgiving weekend and lockdowns still in force across Europe, 2020 was the first ‘digital-first’ Black Friday the world has seen. In fact, Emarsys’s own Vienna data center bandwidth was doubled last week, just to cope with the anticipated demand.

With such an influx of consumer activity, how did brands maximize the opportunity to take on new customers and keep them? How has Emarsys provided organizations with the tactics, technologies and tools they needed to encourage customer engagement, retention and loyalty?

Looking at Emarsys platform usage data from the week running up to Black Friday and including the big day itself, there are three key things we can take away:

1. Agility and Personalization Are on the Rise

Ema Blog Post Black Friday Stats 01

According to data from the Emarsys platform, retailers sought to be more agile and personalized in their digital campaigns this Black Friday, Real-time event triggers (digital campaign triggers based on individual customer behavior) were up a staggering 177% to 189 million, while segment executions (campaigns aimed at different audience segments) were up to by 29% to 14.6 million.

These brands were effectively looking to target their customers with the right messages at the right time through the right channel. By harnessing the power of artificial intelligence, they were also ensuring that these messages were carefully co-ordinated, avoiding irrelevant recommendations and minimizing the risk of ‘sale fatigue’.

To dive into a more specific example, one brand that has proved particularly successful in its automation approach this Black Friday was Sports Direct. Sports Direct implemented Emarsys’s “AI Stylist” tool — using visual recognition to analyze the size, pattern, style, color, and shape of the company’s products based on their images online. This visual data was then used to recommend products to shoppers based on their own unique tastes and preferencesa level of personalization that even Amazon can’t achieve.

2. Brands Push for Push Notifications

Ema Blog Post Black Friday Stats 02

We all know that mobile is a vitally important channel in the run up to Black Friday. Last year alone, mobile transactions accounted for $2.9 billion in sales, and mobile traffic as a whole grew by 58% compared with 2018. Now, however, having an app or offering a decent mobile experience simply isn’t enough.

This year, marketers have been hitting customers hard via apps, with Emarsys seeing a 90% increase in push notifications in the run up to Black Friday to 86 million. These notifications can have a genuine impact on shoppers, with research suggesting they can stimulate up to 25% more web traffic and 30% greater click-through rates.

Still, brands should be careful with these types of attention-grabbing tactics. Push notifications may be great for attracting eyeballs back to your website or app, but when overused they become a serious source of irritation for consumers. Notifications need to be part of a carefully planned engagement strategy, drawing shoppers in at exactly the right moment in time. Once again, AI and automation can play a key role in these decisions, helping to time notifications perfectly in line with consumer habits, demands, and preferences.

3. Email Is Still King

Ema Blog Post Black Friday Stats 03

Email promotions are as useful as ever, despite the doomsday predictions of many commentators following the introduction of GDPR in Europe. The new legislation has actually improved the approach from marketers in terms of personalization, with a more diligent ethic leading to more 1:1 customer personalization in email campaigns.

Our platform data indicates that email is still the beating heart of most Black Friday outreach, with a huge 834 million promotional emails distributed in the build-up to the event — 21% more than last year. Engagement with these email campaigns has also improved, with a 12% increase in click throughs compared to 2019.

Overall, Black Friday 2020 has been a real test for retailers flexing their digital muscles. Digital has been hugely important for a number of years now, but this year has made it crucial — often being make-or-break — and while we’ve seen these trends occur around Black Friday, we expect them to continue into 2021 and beyond.

To find out how Emarsys can help you improve your customer engagement efforts, get in touch.