Black Friday and Cyber Monday by the Numbers

December 05, 2016
Written by
Len Shneyder
Opinions expressed by Twilio contributors are their own

Black Friday and Cyber Monday by the Numbers

Talking about email at scale can be awkward; most people think of email from their end user perspective and experience using a webmail or desktop email client. That’s not how I think about email at scale.

I look at scaling email something like this: sending one email is easy, even trivial. Sending 10 emails is also simple, you just put 10 email addresses into the TO, CC, or BCC line. Sending 100 emails is tedious but also easily achieved. What about sending 1,000 emails? 1,000,000? 100,000,000? What about 1,600,000,000? Reaching scale means sorting problems you never knew existed; sending 1.6 billion emails is hard—but that’s what SendGrid did on Black Friday.

Up and to the Right!

black friday email stats

We’ve been sending over 1 billion emails a day for the better part of the year. Email isn’t contracting, quite the contrary, if you look across mailers that routinely announce milestones in sending volume, the takeaway is that email is growing because it is a major revenue driver.

The Holiday Weekend

Digging a bit deeper into the data, we see a trend that is probably repeated across the industry: high volumes during the week with a reprieve on weekends. However, Black Friday stands out as a massive peak in the data with sustained volume over the weekend; no other holiday generates as much email traffic as Black Friday.


black friday email stats


Even Cyber Monday, although coming close, didn’t top the massive volume generated on the day after Thanksgiving. Retail was naturally a major driver of that volume; email has been helping drive both online and in-store sales–people are primed in the day leading up to the shopping holiday to expect savings in every imaginable format and across every channel.

Open rates remained high, but appeared to dip in response to both volume and the fact that people were most likely bargain hunting on Friday. Whatever the actual reason for the dip in open rates, they bounced back and began to climb in response to the online shopping event vs. the supposed in-store event with a sustained open rate over 20%. (To see where your open rates compare, refer to our Global Email Benchmark Report.)

Mobile Continues to Reign Supreme

Remember that mobile tipping point? It came and went and is simply the new reality in which we all live. Based on our data, mobile came in just under 50% but companies like Litmus who regularly track opens by device put Apple and Android device opens around 54%. Interestingly, windows came in much higher than I personally expected. One could make the argument that devices such as the Windows Surface have sold well and are driving a resurgence in the platform and devices that use the Windows OS.

We ran a similar analysis during the first week of November across 8.7 million opened emails and discovered that desktop and mobile were in a dead heat. The big takeaway here is that to succeed in today’s multi-platform and multi-device world you must design good, responsive templates that will deliver a consistent experience regardless of the device on which the email is opened.

black friday email stats

More Data Than You Can Shake a Stick At!

Other interesting insights delivered by our Big Data Team in the run up to the holiday weekend included behavioral insights like: mobile users are quick to open emails. The median delay was a little shorter for mobile opens than on desktop. This makes sense, we’re on the go, our inbox is in our pocket or purse, and email is approaching a near-real-time communication channel given how often people check email on their phones. Gmail’s mail app remains one of the top 10 apps used by consumers giving email top billing in the mobile world.

black friday email stats

Subject lines will always be a source of debate and discussion around the email marketing water cooler. Based on our analysis in early November, we saw that 9 word subject lines seemed to be the most popular, but 2-4 words had the highest engagement rates, e.g. more people open emails with shorter subject lines. Perhaps the writers of shorter subject lines have mastered the soul of brevity and apply it with a heavy coating of pith, whatever the reason, cutting to the chase appears to deliver!

black friday email stats

We also put together a word cloud based on 80,000 English language subject lines. Absorb this for a moment…this is the sensory bombardment that happens in the inbox. If you’re a mailer, you’re part of this fabric, but every email marketer out there is also a consumer. What do you take away from this?

black friday email stats

Finding Patterns in the Data

The thing about data is that you need a lot of it to make meaningful observations and identify patterns that hint at the underlying human behaviors that drive them. Our data has grown by leaps and bounds—we’re sending 3x as much email today as we did just two years ago on Black Friday, which means we’re able to uncover more patterns and insights that help our customers better engage with their customers.

black friday email stats

At SendGrid we’re proud of what we’ve achieved—massive scale that’s rife with narratives and behavioral patterns. Help us help you, tell us what might be meaningful to uncover and we’ll sit down with our Big Data Team to see if we can massage the story out of our vast data-driven lexicon. In the meantime, check out our Global Email Benchmark Report that analyzes trends from 30 billion emails to over 1.5 billion recipients.

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