Such A Deal

Consumers are inundated with emails from a variety of brands promoting a variety of products and services, creating a highly competitive environment in the inbox. According to an analysis of nearly 8 billion emails sent in Q4 2016, Yes Lifecycle Marketing studied the performance of different incentives in email subject lines.

The study finds that, in order to capture consumers’ attention and stand out, brands have prominently adopted the use of offer incentives in email content. Offers like free shipping, specific percent or dollar-off purchase, and more, have been increasingly implemented in many brand communications to incentivize purchase, says the report.

In determining which offers perform best, the key findings include:

  • Offers were used in 30% of all email subject lines and in 44% of retail-only subject lines
  • Across all industries, incentives related to loyalty programs outperformed all other offer types, generating the highest open, click and click-to-open (CTO) rates
  • On average, emails without an offer in the subject line boasted higher open, click, and CTO rates than those promoting specific incentives
  • Retail offers promoting a specific percent off drove the highest conversion rates from all other messages, with 7.9% of all clicks leading to a purchase

The six most popular types of offer incentives included in the analysis:

  • Buy one, get… These incentives can range in terms of the type of offer they’re advertising but it’s generally anything from ‘Buy one, get one free’ to ‘Buy one, get one 50% off
  • ‘% off and ‘$ off  incentives advertise a specific percent off or a dollar amount off purchase
  • Free shipping is a standard offer that can include slight variations or limitations like ‘Free shipping on orders over $50’ or ‘Free shipping: today ONLY.’
  • Free gift incentivizes consumers with a free gift with purchase including anything from ‘Free tote with purchases over $50!’ to ‘Free Fit magazine subscription with a healthy meal plan purchase.’
  • Loyalty incentives includes incentives for consumers to earn points or rewards through a brand’s loyalty program, take advantage of their membership, or join the program itself. Qualifying subject lines communicate messages like ‘Today! 3X points with any purchase’, ‘This week only: earn an account upgrade’, ‘Member Exclusive: 10% off’ and more.

Performance of Offer Type (Across All Industries) 

Offer Type

Open Rate

Click Rate

CTO Rate

No offer




Average for all offers




Loyalty incentives




Free shipping




Free gift




Buy one, get

   % off




   $ off




Source: Yes Lifecycle Marketing, March 2017

Subject lines promoting a major offer like ‘50% off everything, ’30 off your $100 purchase’ and ‘Free shipping’ have become a staple for many brands across all industries, says the report. In Q4 2016, 30% of subject lines advertised at least one such incentive. In retail they are becoming even more ubiquitous, says the report. 44% of retail subject lines contained an offer in Q4 2016. This suggests that the retail industry is that much more competitive when it comes to incentivizing consumers to purchase.

Across all industries, emails with specific offers in their subject lines underperformed significantly in comparison with those without. With one exception, open rates for emails without explicit offers in the subject line were 28% higher than those with offers. Similarly, for messages without explicit incentives, click and CTO rates were 67% and 34% higher, respectively.

When looking at individual offer types, open, click and CTO rates were also considerably lower for emails with offers in the subject line than for those without, says the report. The only exception was loyalty incentives, which boasted a 9% higher open rate, 20% higher click rate and 12% higher CTO rate compared to messages with no offers in the subject line.

Across all industries, as well as specifically for retail, subject lines containing the word ‘deal’ and without a specific offer performed best in terms of open, click, and CTO rates because they effectively tugged at consumers’ curiosity and got them to open, suggests the report.

Even in campaigns where the offer was specific enough to discourage a click from those who were not interested, the word ‘deal’ seemed to have enough promise to drive clicks due to its implicit meaning of value and savings.

When it comes to conversion, says the report, the retail industry shows us that emails with ‘deal’ in the subject line do not convert at nearly the same rates that messages with offers do. The word ‘deal’ carries a lot of promise and drives many potential customers to a brand’s website, but the promise ends at the point of conversion when high expectations are not necessarily met.

Emails advertising specific offers in the subject line, notes the report, generated almost 5X the conversion rates of those containing ‘deal’ and no offers. One possible explanation is that specific offers tend to weed out shoppers earlier in the funnel. 

Email Performance: ‘Deal’ vs. Offer for Retail


Deal, no offer

Average all offers

Open Rate



Click Rate



CTO Rate



Conversion Rate



Source: Yes Lifecycle Marketing, March 2017

Offer incentives have become the new norm for marketers competing for the ever-dwindling consumer attention. While loyalty offers proved the most engaging overall, percent discounts and free shipping drove the highest conversion rates.

Concluding, the report says that, on average, emails that did not highlight a specific offer generated higher engagement than the ones that did, indicating that, regardless of their appeal and generosity, offers must be meaningful to consumers in order to be effective. An enticing email subject line sets high expectations, but if they are not met when consumers open the message, it compromises the chance for conversion. When used as part of the right communication strategy, offer incentives can drive major revenue for brands and keep customers coming back.

For more information from YesLifeCycleMarketing, please visit here.



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