Black Friday 2017: How AI will Enable More Personalized Marketing

One of the best times to see what personalization can do for marketing your brand is on one of the biggest shopping days of the year: Black Friday.

black friday

But how exactly will you personalize every email and push notification you send out in the days or weeks leading up to Black Friday? You have thousands of customers, and to manually customize each message, you’d have to start prepping a year or more in advance. It’s impossible, right?

Actually, it very much is impossible for a single mortal or a team of marketers pulling 60-hour work weeks. Humans can’t scale this kind of work.

Maybe you’ve heard about artificial intelligence (AI) and its marketing implications, but it can be hard to separate the reality from the hype. Maybe you’re intimidated by a technology that you think will take your marketing team months to learn.

But if you can look past these misconceptions, you’ll find companies who have already implemented AI into their marketing strategies have produced results that are hard to ignore — marked increases in revenue, CTRs, conversions, and overall engagement.

Recently, Emarsys commissioned Forrester Consulting to conduct a survey of 717 business leaders and decision makers on how ready they are to take on AI. The study draws attention to just how big of an impact implementing  can have on a company. And as the retail world begins planning for Black Friday, we couldn’t help but apply the study’s findings to holiday marketing strategies.

Black Friday Bonanza

Black Friday is the official kickoff of the holiday shopping season, taking place in late November on the day after Thanksgiving in the US. As brands slash prices to earn the attention of shoppers, analysts attempt to predict how this Black Friday Bonanza will compare to years past. That said, let’s take a look at Black Friday 2016 to see what it might tell us about what to expect this year.

What the 2016 Data Says

For Black Friday 2016, online sales exceeded predictions ($3.04B) with a resounding $3.34B, up 21.6% over the previous year. The number of people shopping went up with more than 151 million people searching for the best deals. Though many of the sales took place online, brick-and-mortars still saw 102 million visitors compared to 103 million online. That means approximately 50 million people shopped both channels, further proving that online isn’t necessarily eclipsing the importance of physical stores; online and offline complement each other.

Average Order Value Down Slightly

Many retailers had very successful online sales, such as Target and Kohl’s, and some brands like Walmart, kicked off their Black Friday online discounts a day early at 12:01 a.m. Thanksgiving morning, which resulted in substantially greater traffic. However, despite more people shopping, the average amount spent by shoppers was down 3.5% from $299.60 in 2015 to $289.19, according to an NRF/Prosper Insights & Analytics survey. The NRF believes this drop was tied to deflation in electronics products and heavy discounting by big box brands.

Black Friday Abroad

While the Brits do not celebrate Thanksgiving, they also saw huge numbers of online shoppers on Black Friday, which has morphed into a holiday shopping period rather than a mere day of deep discounts in the UK. Beating the projected £1.1B, UK sales were up 12.2% to £1.23B. Interestingly, the UK also saw that despite an increase in the number of people shopping online, conversion rates were lower than the previous year, suggesting that offline channels still have much to contribute to the bottom line.

The Mobile Boom

Mobile sales exploded on Black Friday 2016, making history as the first time more than $1B was generated in a single day through purchases made on mobile devices — $1.2B total up 33% from the previous year.

The retailers who paid attention to their sales results over the last few years’ worth of Black Fridays went on to invest in mobile optimization long before November 25, 2016. The most successful brands did this while also maintaining a strong presence in reliable channels like email and social media, garnering average sales gains of 30% and average order size growth of 25%.

Compared to the average e-commerce conversion rate of 2%-3%, mobile conversions were up overall, but the growth in mobile sales beat projections and the holiday averages with smartphones at 1.9% (over 1.3% avg. and up 2.2% YoY) and tablets at 3.7% (over 2.9% avg. and up 4.6% YoY). iOS devices converted a little better than Android (2.5% vs. 2.2%). By comparison, the once dominant desktop had a 4% conversion rate, which was still a 5.5% increase from the previous year.

Big box brands like Amazon, Walmart, and eBay have deftly noted and prepared for the growing use of mobile. Some companies experienced huge leaps in mobile sales: U.S.-based retailer Target reported that over 60% of its online sales came from mobile customers.

Black Friday 2017: Getting More Personal

So how will this year be different? Well, for starters, retailers who have implemented AI marketing technology still have a distinct advantage.

  Retailers who’ve implemented #AI-enabled #martech this Black Friday will have a distinct advantage 🎅  [TWEET THIS!]

As the commissioned study conducted by Forrester Consulting on behalf of Emarsys revealed, we’re in the middle of a shift in marketing where 42% of companies are already piloting (8%), implementing (14%) or expanding (20%) marketing technology with AI capabilities. This means over half of the surveyed companies have yet to do so, with 21% evaluating adoption and 37% in the initial stages of showing interest.

Another indicator of how serious marketing firms are about adopting AI is how many companies throughout the spectrum (from companies who have no AI plan in place to those expanding the AI solutions they’ve already implemented) are planning to invest in AI marketing technology. The Forrester study shows that 78% of the polled organizations forecast that their spend on AI marketing technologies will increase over the next 12 months by 5% or more. Three out of five of the surveyed companies plan to implement AI over the next 6 to 12 months.

What do these companies know that the rest of the industry doesn’t? Why is this massive shift in AI adoption happening now?

The companies who are already implementing AI marketing have their sights set on what the technology can do for marketing, specifically looking to capitalize on these capabilities:

  • 43% plan to unleash AI-enhanced advanced analytics.
  • 40% are drawn to AI-driven intelligent recommendation solutions.
  • 37% are interested in machine learning and how it supports automation primarily through pattern recognition.
  • 35% value AI’s powerful customer analytics.
  • 30% want to employ AI’s send time optimization capabilities, which determine the best times for sending email based on customer data.

In addition to these specific features, the surveyed companies also see AI and its built-in ability to consume real-time data at scale from a broad range of sources as a potential sea change in marketing:

  • 62% of these leading organizations see their AI marketing initiatives as part of a broader business transformation initiative.
  • 52% say that AI makes it possible to manage real-time customer interactions with the brand.
  • 86% think that AI will make marketing teams more efficient and more effective in their customer interactions.
  • 82% predict that AI will enable marketers to focus on value-generating strategy as AI automates the time-costly tasks.
  • 79% believe AI technology will shift the role of marketing toward more strategic work, such as audience segmentation, product innovation, and incentives.
  • The most stunning finding that the survey shows is that most marketing firms agree or strongly agree that AI will reinvent the retail industry (88%) and dramatically change what their companies do (81%).

So what does AI adoption and readiness have to do with a more personal and more successful Black Friday? Well, let’s take a look at what AI can actually do for marketing.

AI and Artificial Intelligence Marketing (AIM)

First of all, let’s be clear about something. AI by itself is just a bunch of algorithms waiting on a purpose. It’s an enabling technology, not an endgame. You need to fuel the technology with proprietary data, and then you need a game-changing bridge between the AI-sorted data and you, the marketer, something that will make the work scalable. At Emarsys, our solution is AIM (Artificial Intelligence Marketing), software that allows marketers to make the most of our marketing platform.

The Forrester study on AI readiness shows that decision makers either already have implemented or are very interested in adopting AI-powered marketing technology to achieve several big objectives. We’ll discuss the top 5 here as they relate to AI’s personalization features and how they can be leveraged this Black Friday to engage the millions of shoppers out there.

Personalization Breeds Brand Loyalty

Personalization features are among the most effective arrows in the marketer’s quiver because they allow the marketer to easily target individuals in meaningful, data-driven ways, and with good reason: 73% of consumers prefer to buy from brands that personalize the shopping experience.

Black Friday is a prime time to use personalization to instill faith in and loyalty to your brand. As the Forrester study points out, retail and e-commerce decision makers see AI as a method for improving and strengthening their brands – the #5 objective that surveyed decision makers want AI to accomplish – and intend to apply AI to personalize the customer experience across all channels and devices.

Related Content: 20 Ways to Increase Online Sales During the 2017 Holiday Season

One-to-One Is a Competitive Advantage

According to the study, remaining competitive is the #4 objective companies want to achieve with AI, and the technology certainly gives marketers an advantage over those who are slow to adopt and implement. Through further optimization and a fully integrated platform, though, you can go head-to-head this Black Friday against companies that claim to have AI marketing solutions that are put together piecemeal culminating in tech that doesn’t integrate well.

Custom-Made Omnichannel Experience

The #3 objective that surveyed businesses want to use AI to achieve is to provide a consistent customer experience across all channels. Averaging 4.5 connected devices when interacting with a brand, customers now expect an omnichannel experience where they might start their buying journey on a website, switch to a mobile app, and finish by purchasing in-store. By leveraging AI technology, companies can meet this demand and create efficient and consistent experiences this holiday shopping season while also automating time-consuming tasks that take marketers away from creative and strategy.

Retain Customers with a Shopping Experience Tailored to the Individual

The #2 objective that the surveyed businesses want to achieve with AI is to better serve existing customers, which is wise. Customer acquisition costs five times more than retaining existing customers, and the probability of selling to an existing customer is 60%-70% while selling to a new customer is only 5%-20%. If a company can increase its retention rate —especially during a super-high traffic period like Black Friday — by as little as 5%, profits can go up to anywhere between 25% and 95%.

Personalization Drives Revenue

In the Forrester study, the #1 objective that surveyed businesses want to achieve with AI is to drive revenue growth, and AI marketing provides different ways to do this.

  New research shows the #1 business objective of using #AI is revenue growth [TWEET THIS!]

With over three quarters of the organizations polled in the study stating that they plan to bulk up their budgets for AI technologies by 5% or more in the next year, the industry is moving beyond buzzword hype to a tangible AI solution.

By better understanding each buyer’s purchasing behavior through AI tech and data science, the marketer can create more effective, highly personalized interactions from the days leading up to Black Friday and onward through the Black Friday weekend. This, in turn, improves response rates, reduces costs, generates higher marketing ROI, and drives overall revenue. All critical to a successful Black Friday. 


Business decision makers already see AI marketing as a revolution engine, finally addressing something humans can’t do and that’s make sense of billions of pieces of data in the moment. AI marketing is also a perfect framework for building and maintaining an omnichannel strategy, and going forward, marketers will need to marry AI (the enabling technology) with proprietary data (the fuel that feeds AI) to achieve one-to-one personalization through AI marketing solutions.

With an AI-powered, data-fed platform, marketers can:

  • Go beyond simply collecting data
  • Better understand each buyer’s purchasing behavior
  • Automate segmentation and event-triggered interactions
  • Create more effective, highly personalized interactions

All this personalization results in a far more accurate one-to-one targeting, while also reducing costs and generating higher marketing ROI. How ready are you to take AIM and see what it will do for your brand and bottom line this Black Friday?

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⇒ Ready to capitalize on the points in this post? Get The Omnichannel Marketer’s Holiday Domination Guide for FREE and get more actionable insights to own the 2017 holiday season!

Wednesday, 19 July 2017
  • Sobaan Khan

    Great article. Thanks for the tips!