Post-BFCM Analysis Shows That Sales Went Up, Even As Conversions Dropped

By Bernard Meyer, Director of Content and Research at Omnisend

This year’s BFCM (Black Friday-Cyber Monday) was the first in nearly 10 years when the industry experienced a decrease in sales. At least, that’s since Adobe began tracking BFCM sales, and this year saw a 1.4% decrease in Cyber Monday sales.

When Omnisend analyzed its own customers’ BFCM 2021 data, for the Cyber 10 period of Nov. 21-30, it saw a similar, but more balanced trend:

Conversions went down, but ecommerce brands sent out more messages and earned more sales.

What kind of numbers are we talking about? Here’s the quick-and-dirty summary:

When looking at all the messages sent out (in Omnisend this includes email, SMS and push notifications), we saw that:

  • There were 47% more promotional messages sent out, resulting in 37% more orders
  • There were 90% more automated messages sent out, resulting in 28% more orders

So absolute sales went up, but that is linked to the fact that the absolute number of messages sent out increased.

However, when looking at conversion rates, we saw that:

  • Average conversion rates went down 3.8% for promotional emails and down 36% for automated emails
  • Average conversion rates dropped 22% for promotional SMS, but increased 6% for automated SMS
  • Average conversion rates dropped 54% for promotional push messages, but increased a whopping 57% for automated push messages

Overall, one trend that we saw that still hasn’t changed is that automated messages make up a small percentage of messages sent out, but bring in a large amount of orders.

Specifically for BFCM 2021, automation made up only 5% of all sends, but brought in 31% of all orders.

Let’s take a deeper dive into these findings.

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Emails: drop in all conversions, but orders are still strong

When looking at the promotional emails (one-off, manual campaigns) sent over this year’s BFCM period, we saw that the highest amount of orders came (unsurprisingly) Black Friday, followed by Cyber Monday and Small Business Saturday:

This lines up with the most popular days for sending out promotional emails.

However, when looking at the conversion rate for these promotional emails, we saw that Black Friday had the highest rate (0.16%), followed by Cyber Monday (0.12%). This is a 3.8% drop from BFCM 2020.

For automated (triggered) emails, the most popular days were Black Friday, followed by the Monday before Thanksgiving (3.598 million), and Cyber Monday (3.594 million):

By far the most popular automated email was the abandoned cart, followed by the welcome email. Overall, we saw a 36% drop in conversion rates for automated emails.

Because these are automated emails, they’re triggered by user behavior. So an increase in automated emails indicates an increase in user behavior, which implies that users really began hunting for good BFCM deals on Nov. 22, the Monday before Thanksgiving.

This also means that they are more likely to add an item to their cart and abandon it, hoping for a good discount, rather than signing up directly for your newsletters.

Takeaway: When looking at the behavior of “hunting” for deals (abandoning carts in the hopes of a convincing discount), we can see that customers are much more aware of BFCM promotions, and they will bounce around looking for the best deal. This, combined with the overall industry-wide trend in ecommerce, helps explain the drop in conversion rates.

SMS keeps on growing

Most of the promotional (one-off) SMS messages were sent on Black Friday, followed by Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday.  In total, Omnisend merchants generated 9% more orders this year compared to 2020.

For automated SMS, we see a slightly different picture, which may look bizarre at first glance— the vast majority of triggered SMS messages were sent on Small Business Saturday:

One good reason is that people receive promotional SMS promotions on Friday, they interact with the brand later that day, and receive automated SMS messages on Saturday.

When looking at conversion rates, however, we see that it’s breaking slightly from the trend set by emails:

Promotional SMS conversion rates dropped 22% YoY, but they actually increased 6% for automated SMS.

Takeaway: simply, if you haven’t yet, you should be adding SMS to your marketing toolbox, and especially lean on SMS as part of your automation workflows. Shoppers may have been inundated with promotional messages, but those trigger-based SMS messages that they received were convincing (and timely enough) to cause them to convert more, even in this “down” year.

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The push notification powerhouse

Push notifications get a bad rap, and of the three channels analyzed here—email, SMS, and push—it is the least popular. However, it also happens to be the most effective, with conversion rates 2.5 times higher than both email and SMS.

Interestingly, the largest amount of promotional push notifications were sent out on Thanksgiving; for automated push notifications, Black Friday was the most popular.

The result?

Promotional push message orders increased a full 93% this year, while automated push orders generated a whopping 230% more orders.

For promotional push messages, the Sunday before Cyber Monday saw the highest conversion rate, followed by Giving Tuesday and Small Business Saturday:

Automated push conversions showed a different trend though: the highest automated push conversion rate was for the Sunday before Thanksgiving, with four times higher conversion rates than the second-most popular day, the Sunday before Cyber Monday.

Overall, when comparing this year’s push message conversion rates to last year’s, we’re seeing a similar trend to SMS:

Promotional push message conversion rates fell 54% YoY, while automated push message conversions increased 57%.

Takeaway: don’t underestimate the power of push notifications. They convert like crazy. Make sure to include them in your automated workflows so you can see the huge benefits that these merchants saw.

Summary

There are a few main insights we can take from this BFCM 2021 analysis. Primarily, Omnisend merchants (and likely all other ecommerce merchants) are not immune to the ebbs and flows of the wider industry.

Online sales (in terms of percentages) dropped for the first time this year, while absolute sales increased; i.e., this year’s overall BFCM sales were the highest ever.

For merchants, then, this means that their sales were still higher than last year, on average, and the negative is that the sales could have been higher if conversion rates remained unchanged.

We’re seeing an interesting trend of email conversion rates dropping the most, both promotional and automated. This is the most popular channel, so it may have more to do with a reflection of the change in shopping behavior this year than the possibility that it is a “worse” channel.

That being said, the fact that both SMS and push (especially push) saw only a drop in promotional messages but an increase in automated messages, means that those alternative channels are showing promising results that merchants need to explore.

Add SMS and push notifications to your automated workflows and see how these can impact your overall sales.

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