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A Gray November Recap From My Inbox’s Point of View

With consumers shopping earlier, thanks to heavier discounting, earlier promotions and a trend toward buying for themselves, Black Friday and Cyber Monday no longer kick off holiday shopping. They’re merely a part of it. Instead, we’re now seeing the rise of Gray November, a month-long start to the holiday shopping season.

According to Adobe Digital Insights, over $1 billion in online revenue was generated on 27 of the first 28 days in November, for a grand total of $39.97 billion. And of those sales, 18% can be attributed to email. As a subscriber to hundreds of email programs, I decided to look at my own inbox for indications that the Gray November trend is continuing. Here are some of my key findings.


In an attempt to attract customers earlier in the season, retailers have begun offering discounts continuously throughout the year, with deeper discounts around the holidays. Consumers have come to expect these early discounts, and retailers have delivered. Did the trend continue this year? From what I saw, the answer is yes.

In looking through my inbox for incentives advertised in the subject line*, discounts as high as 50% were among the top three incentives offered every single week since mid-October. Nearly two weeks prior to Black Friday, 50% became the most advertised discount. In fact, from Thanksgiving through Cyber Monday, the 50% discount was the most touted, with a minor exception on November 26, when it came in just 0.4% behind a free shipping offer.

*Please note: Subject lines may have contained multiple discounts, such as 20% and free shipping. This email was counted for both.

Cyber Weekend Send Volume

If companies are looking to gain customers earlier in the season, we assume they‘ll send more emails earlier. How did the rest of Gray November compare to the always busy Thanksgiving weekend?

The three highest send days in my inbox were, in order: Cyber Monday, Black Friday and Thanksgiving Day. Even with a month-long shopping period, this should come as no surprise. These signature days are still synonymous with holiday shopping and continued to be the most popular sending days for retailers during Gray November.

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Black Friday sends were 39.4% greater than Thanksgiving Day, and Cyber Monday was 12.6% higher than Black Friday. Bronto Software also reported an 11.4% lift in emails sent on Cyber Monday compared to Black Friday.

Cyber Week Sends

Cyber Week sendsIn looking at sends to my personal email, they began to dramatically increase during the week of November 14, and this increase only continued during the week of Thanksgiving. When I compare daily sends that week with the average number of sends for the same weekday during the three weeks prior, I saw these jumps in sending activity.

Subject Lines

I always enjoy seeing what subject line strategies marketers go with during the harried Cyber Weekend. Here are a few things I noticed from this year’s holiday email flurry:

  • Thanksgiving Day: “Black Friday” was used in 34% of subject lines, compared to only 20% for “Thanksgiving.”
  • Black Friday: The term “Black Friday” was used in 50% of emails sent.
  • November 26: “Black Friday” was used in 26% of emails, and 10% referred to the sale being “extended.”
  • November 27: “Cyber Monday” was used in 21.8% of subject lines, and “Black Friday” was still being used for 14.4%.
  • Cyber Monday: The term “Cyber Monday” was used in 46% of emails, which was slightly less than the 50% of Black Friday mentions that day.
  • November 23-28: Only 12 emails (of thousands) used my first name in the subject line.

The New Norm

Gray November continues to gain ground, as consumers are expecting and finding discounts earlier in the season. If retailers were late to adapt to this shift in consumer shopping behavior this year, they won’t likely do so next year. Gray November is the new norm.

For more inspiration and tips for a successful holiday season, visit Bronto’s Holiday Marketing Academy.

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