The Best (And Worst) Black Friday And Cyber Monday Emails

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Did you get any Black Friday and Cyber Monday emails? KIDDING — I am sure you received tons! I know I have. Here’s just a little snippet of my inbox from Cyber Monday:

Holiday shopping stats

According to Chad White over at The Retail Email Blog more than 79% of major online retailers sent their subscribers at least one promotional email on Black Friday. And while Cyber Monday still takes the cake for the busiest email marketing day, Thanksgiving moved up in ranks this year and claimed the #2 spot!

% of Major Retailers Sending Emails on Thanksgiving 
IBM Digital Analytics also published a Black Friday report stating a “17.4 percent increase in online sales Thanksgiving Day. This increase set the stage for a 20.7 percent growth on Black Friday.” Cyber Monday also saw a 30.3% increase in online sales since 2011.

As expected, mobile played a BIG part in this year’s holiday shopping. IBM also reported a 70% increase in mobile traffic to retail sites, with more than 18% of consumers using their devices. Mobile sales also skyrocketed, reaching close to 13% (a 96% increase over 2011).

“Mobile sales reached close to 13%, an increase of more than 96% over 2011.”

However, mobile sales were 20% less on Cyber Monday than what they were on Black Friday. Since many shoppers returned to the office on Monday, we might assume they were shopping from their desks instead! Based off these stats and the recent growth of mobile, I’m very surprised that retailers didn’t anticipate and plan ahead for better mobile shopping experiences — almost all of the emails we received were image-based and extremely hard to interact with on a mobile device! (Want to see how your holiday campaign went? Try Litmus Analytics, free!)

Our Favorite (and not-so favorite) Black Friday & Cyber Monday Emails

Okay, enough with the stats — let’s get to the good stuff! Check out some of our favorite (and, um, not-so-favorite) Black Friday & Cyber Monday emails that we’ve received!


The subject line of this email — “Bring JOY to a Child Battling Cancer!” — immediately caught my attention and stood out among all of the “25% off,” “Cyber Monday deals,” etc. that have been crowding my inbox the past few days. Coinciding with this subject line, the content of the email really struck me. While the majority of the holiday emails I’ve received lately have focused on deals that would benefit ME (specifically, me saving money), this email focuses on subscribers doing something to benefit others (specifically, children battling cancer). It’s very altruistic and showcases the true spirit of the holiday season — giving!

In addition, the design and color scheme of this email really stood out among the other holiday emails that I have received. Rather than making it a holiday-themed email with red & green or Fall colors, the email has the same design and color scheme as their everyday emails. While they could have spruced up this email with a little holiday fun, I think it’s nice that they kept the design simple and focused on the important content — giving back to those in need.

Another positive aspect of the email is that it encourages readers to go back to see each day’s new t-shirt designs—hopefully driving subscribers to view the email multiple times.

Ann Taylor Loft

This email from the Loft also had a subject line — “OMG” — that piqued my interest and resulted in me opening the email. However, while I’m sure the Loft’s target audience is younger individuals who know what OMG stands for, an older audience may be unsure about what it means — which could either lead to curiosity and cause them to open the email, or it could deter them from opening it.

Once I opened the email, the bright pink color really popped on my screen and drew me into the email’s content, which I am also a fan of. I really liked the irony of the message — “This is huge” is written in extremely small text. Not sure if it’s because I’m an email nerd or not, but the irony definitely made me laugh! Since the text is so short and didn’t tell me anything at all about the sale (or if there even is a sale!), it really piqued my curiosity and I clicked through to see what the deal was — succeeding in their goal much? I’d say so!

Loft's Multiple Emails

This email was just one in a series that we received, and while all of the emails have the same color scheme and attention-grabbing content, we received them all within a 20 hour period! They could have spread the emails out a little bit more, or decreased the frequency, as not to overwhelm subscribers.


I really enjoyed’s use of animated GIFs in their Black Friday email. Since animated GIFs have such great support across email clients, I think they did a great favor to themselves in including the little extra touch of an animated GIF — it definitely stood out among the static emails in my inbox.

The color scheme of this email is somewhat shocking! It definitely isn’t the typical cheery color scheme of holiday emails; instead, it’s dark and somewhat harsh. Black and red are colors typically used in propaganda pieces, not holiday emails and advertisements, so it definitely stood out in my inbox (for the good and for the bad!).

One of the aspects of the email that could use some work is the subject line, “e-Blast ULTIMATE Black-Friday Sale – UNREAL 24-HOUR ONLY Codes UNLOCKED.” For starters, alternating between caplocked and standard lettering paired with the dashes made the subject line a little bit hard to read. And what about including “e-Blast” in the subject line? The last thing I want to receive is a blasted message — I want to receive messages that include relevant content!

In addition, at the very top of the email there is an image of a cell phone and a link to view a mobile-friendly version of the email. Needless to say, I was pretty shocked when I clicked that link on my iPhone and was brought to a landing page that would have tired even the strongest scroller thumb (it was at least a dozen iPhone screens long!). Rather than linking to a “mobile friendly” version, they should have made the actual email more mobile friendly and have all of the links in the email lead to mobile optimized landing pages.

The New York Times

New York Times

I am a big fan of The New York Times’ effort in making this email optimized for viewing in all environments. Due to its slender design and a large CTA button, the email looks great and is easy to interact with on the small screen of a mobile device (of course, that is only if images are enabled!). However, since many email clients block images by default, the main content of this email will appear blank to some readers. In order to avoid this dilemma, The New York Times should have used a proper balance of images and live text paired with a bulletproof button.

While the text of the email is in a fun design, it is quite hard to read and actually pushed the call to action further down the screen. It may have been The New York Times’ intention to jumble the text in order to make their subscribers really focus on the email in order to read the content, but since subscribers only spend 3-4 seconds deciding if they are going to interact with your email, it’s probably better to make the CTA and value proposition more clear.

Also, it’s worth mentioning that even though Justine received this message, she has never given The New York Times her email address nor been a subscriber. They emailed her for the first time last year on Cyber Monday (with an email address using her maiden name—she’s been married for 8 years!) and have been emailing her ever since. They must have done an append or rented a list to get her email address — kind of sketchy if I do say so myself!



In all three of their holiday emails that I’ve received, Adorama has used symbols in their subject lines as a tactic to stand out in the inbox. While it’s a great tactic in theory, I think they could have been more strategic in which symbols they use — the sun and lightening bolt are definitely not applicable to the topic of the email. Perhaps a snowman or Christmas tree would have been more appropriate!

Adorama Inbox

While it’s very simple, I really like Adorama’s use of animated GIFs in their emails — it makes their free shipping deal really stand out in the email. However, it might have been more effective if they mixed up the animated GIF a little — I received three emails from them in less than 24 hours and they all had the same animated GIF!

Another aspect of the email that I enjoyed is their use of a holiday-themed navigation bar. While it has the same content as their typical navigation bars, it’s covered in snow and a bow, which makes it appropriate for the holiday-themed sale! I thought it was a cute way to tie in the holiday without overpowering the message and email with reds and greens.

On a less positive note, Adorama could have improved this email by making it shorter — much shorter! I couldn’t believe how long I had to scroll until I reached the bottom of the email (and that was when I was viewing it on my desktop, never mind my phone!). Rather than showing dozens of their products, they could have presented these on a landing page, rather than including them in the email.

Princess Cruises


The subject line of this email from Princess Cruises is, undoubtedly, something that would grab subscribers’ attention — “Sale ends tomorrow! Save up to $1000!*” Most companies are offering a percentage off items, or free shipping, so it was definitely interesting to see a solid number in the subject line, especially a number as large as $1,000!

Another aspect of the email that I really liked is that they promote a “Thanksgiving Sale,” rather than the typical Black Friday or Cyber Monday holiday sale. In sync with that, they use a Fall color scheme — leaves and acorns included! It definitely caught my eye since the majority of other emails used more of a red/green color scheme with accents such as snow and snowflakes. In addition, Princess Cruises’ use of an animated GIF in the banner is an extra touch to the email that I really enjoyed. While it’s a very subtle animated GIF, it further emphasizes the opportunity to save $1,000 — which is an amazing deal!

As with the series of emails from The New York Times, Justine has never signed up for Princess Cruises, so she was, needless to say, surprised to see these messages arrive in her inbox! Like The New York Times, they must have done a list rental or append.


I was immediately attracted to the infographic-like feel of this email from Lomography. I like that the 10% off is made up of cameras and, overall, I think that the email has a really nice creative; it’s simple yet very attractive. In addition, Lomography stuck with their brand colors — red and blue — rather than using a holiday-themed color scheme. However, the subject line, “10% Off In The Shop For 24 Hours Only,” and the discount itself — only 10%! — are somewhat dismal. Compared to the other deals in my inbox — 20% from American Apparel and $1000 off from Princess Cruises — this sale is really unimpressive.

When images are disabled, the main content of the email (including the CTA, since they use a bullet-proof button) is still present, which is a positive of this email. In addition, they use ALT text to describe the images that are disabled. While it’s not the best images-off optimized email that I’ve seen, it’s definitely not the worst!

In addition, while the main CTA is touch-friendly it’s pushed quite far down in my inbox, far away from the magic preview pane. Many of the other links in the email are also difficult to interact with on my iPhone. The text links in the body and the links at the bottom of the email almost guarantee a fat-finger mistake. Lomography should have made all of these links larger so that they are easy to interact with in all environments.


One of the first things that I noticed about’s email was the white-on-white text in the preheader when viewed in Yahoo! mail. Since Yahoo! strips out the <body> tag in HTML emails, background colors that are assigned only in the <body> tag are removed, occasionally resulting in issues like this one. To prevent unreadable preheader text (or worse, footer text with your unsubscribe link!), be sure to double-up on crucial background colors, specifying it once in the <body> tag and again in container <div> or <table> cells.

Another thing to be aware of is the inclusion of search boxes and forms in email. In the navigation bar for’s email, they’ve included a search function. Since there is sporadic support for forms in email clients, this can present a challenge for some subscribers. Some clients won’t display the form at all (Outlook 2007), some will disable it or throw an warning message (Yahoo! Mail, Gmail, AOL Mail, and others). For a full list of support, check out this great post from Campaign Monitor. When Justine submitted her search in Yahoo! Mail, she received a JavaScript alert announcing that the form is submitting data to an external page and asked her if she would like to continue. This happens frequently in webmail clients. As a result, it’s probably best to leave out the search bar or, at least, link to a form on a website rather than embedding it in the actual email!

Old Navy & Banana Republic

old navy and banana republic

What immediately caught my attention about these two emails? Probably the fact that they have the same EXACT same subject line — “Cyber Monday starts now: 2 days to save at all 5 brands.” Not exactly the best way to stand out in the inbox, especially for subscribers that receive emails from more than one brand in Gap’s portfolio.

I found the content and designs of these emails to be the standard emails that you receive on Black Friday and Cyber Monday. Nothing in particular struck me or caused me to look twice; the images look like they could be stock photos and the content of the two emails is the exact same! If I was solely an Old Navy subscriber, I would only want to be receiving specific deals about Old Navy — not about four other brands that I don’t care about.


While not technically a Black Friday or Cyber Monday email, I did see a surprising number of “OOPS” emails hit my inbox on Tuesday this week. If I’m to believe what all these online retailers are telling me, a lot of e-commerce systems were experiencing technical difficulties over the last few days. I don’t remember seeing this many “oops, our site went down, so we’re extending our sale” emails, well, ever. So did all these retailers really get so much traffic that eager buyers were turned away? We may never know!

If there weren’t legitimate issues with their site or commerce system, you might argue that this type of email is deceiving. Or is it just creative marketing and another opportunity to allow harried shoppers more time to save? I hope we don’t need to anticipate adding “Oops Tuesday” to the slew of marketing messages we receive around the holidays!

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Make your holiday email campaign merry

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