Nov 3, 2014

Cyber Monday and Email Volume

The holidays are fast approaching, which means life’s about to get super-busy for MailChimp and our customers. If you’re an e-commerce retailer, you’re probably already thinking about your Cyber Monday sales. And maybe you’re readying your holiday email strategy, too. But if not, plan to spend a little time over the next few weeks getting your list ready for the big day.

Why? Well, I’m always curious about email growth trends around this time of year, so I took a look at 118 billion emails sent through MailChimp in the last 3 years. I wanted to know when holiday volume starts, but I ended up finding something more interesting: Cyber Monday is going to be a big deal this year because of how late it falls on the calendar.

Before we get to that, a quick history lesson: Sarah Josepha Hale, author of "Mary Had a Little Lamb," petitioned 5 United States presidents to make Thanksgiving a national holiday. In 1863 Abraham Lincoln finally agreed, setting the holiday on the last Thursday of every November. Franklin Delano Roosevelt later changed it to the fourth Thursday of the month, reasoning that an earlier holiday would provide economic stimulation at a much needed time.

Unfortunately for FDR, Thanksgiving still falls very late in November every once in a while, which pushes big shopping days like Black Friday and Cyber Monday into December. And based on my research, we see dramatic upswings in email volume when that happens. Let’s look at the data:

Weekly Holiday Volume Growth by Year

This chart compares weekly volume to the average of the three previous weeks to get a growth rate. At 100%, growth remains steady as compared to the weeks before it. That giant peak on week 48 represents the Cyber Monday week. If you look at the exact dates Cyber Monday falls on, you’ll notice that years with more days between Cyber Monday and December have lower peaks, while years where Cyber Monday is actually in December have huge peaks. Is it because people are more likely to have holiday shopping on their minds on that later Monday? Or maybe it’s just easier to see the holiday finish line when Cyber Monday occurs in the final month of the year? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Year Date of Cyber Monday
2011 Nov 28th
2012 Nov 26th
2013 Dec 2nd
2014 Dec 1st

It’s difficult to know for sure from our growth chart, but FDR may have been on the right track. There are two distinct swells in email volume: The first corresponds to Black Friday and Cyber Monday, and the second to the beginning of December. Like wave patterns, these events seem to have a multiplying effect when brought together.


What does this all mean? For starters, it makes clear something we already knew: a lot of people send emails after Thanksgiving. And with so many emails flying into inboxes, it’s smart to make sure your readers are ready to listen but not tired of hearing from you.

If you haven’t sent to your list in a while, spend the next month building up your reputation. Don’t wait until Cyber Monday and then hit everyone up after a long lag in sending. Also, use our segmenting and A/B splitting tools to target the right subscribers with the right content, training ISPs to know that your campaigns are associated with high opens and low abuse rates.

If you’ve been sending to your list all year, now is not the time to go crazy. Don’t turn that weekly email into a daily email unless your subscribers really want to hear from you that often. The more seasonal fatigue you subject them to now, the less likely they are to open your email when it counts.

Looking for even more tips to send better email this holiday season? Your wish is our command. Oh, and just in case you missed it, be sure to check out the results of the holiday survey we recently sent to our customers.