The Urgency Of Free Shipping: Successful Subject Lines

In last week's column I discussed research into how promotional top online retailers' subject lines were, including the prevalence of "hybrid" subject lines, which incorporate both promotional and non-promotional elements. This week I'd like to share more results from my study of retailers' subject lines.

One significant component of retailers' promotional subject lines is the use of the words "free shipping."During the 3-month time period of the study, 14% of the emails included those words (or the equivalent). More than 54% of the retailers in the sample used "free shipping" in their subject lines at least once.

While price has little effect on customer satisfaction, according to ForeSee Results President and CEO Larry Freed, he said that "free shipping drives satisfaction and future purchase intent" and provided the following evidence:

  • People who were offered free shipping were 5% more satisfied than those who weren't offered this perk.



  • 44% of respondents who were offered free shipping made a purchase, compared to 33% of respondents who weren't offered free shipping but still bought something.

  • 36% of people who were offered free shipping and who bought something online said that the free shipping offer was the primary reason they made the purchase.

    So the moral here is that offering free shipping is probably more likely to drive interest and customer satisfaction than product discounts. Of course, you should test to see what your particular subscribers respond to.

    Nearly 9% of retailers have embraced this as a major element of their subject line strategy, using "free shipping" in their subject lines more than 50% of the time. These retailers include Avon, Oriental Trading, Bellacor, PetSmart, Gloss, Jo-Ann, Polo and Petco.

    I also looked at the use of urgency in retailers' subject lines, flagging those that used phrases like "today only," "ends today," "this weekend only," "limited time," "through Sunday" and "last chance." What I found was that 19% of the subject lines in the study included urgency to help spur the subscriber to action. And more than 72% of retailers used urgency in at least one email sent during the three-month time period.

    While you can create urgency for both non-promotional and promotional messages, this strategy is most often used to enhance promotional messages, letting subscribers know when a discount will expire or sale will end. In light of that and considering that 72% of subject lines were promotional, I thought the urgency numbers were low. There seems to be an opportunity for retailers to give their promotional messages a boost by adding more urgency to their subject lines.

    Only about 5% of retailers embraced urgency as a major subject line strategy, using urgency in more than 50% of their subject lines. Those retailers include OfficeMax,, Sears, Omaha Steaks and AbeBooks.

    Some examples of subject lines that create urgency include:

    OfficeMax, 4/19 - Only Two Days Left to Save - $30 Coupon Enclosed AllPosters, 4/20 - Final Hours - 25% Off Everything - From Posters to T-shirts!

    Sears, 4/11 - Tonight Only, Save up to 20% Online from 12am - 6am

    Omaha Steaks, 3/5 - Save 70% PLUS FREE SHIPPING...3 Days Only

    AbeBooks, 3/28 - AbeBooks NewsFlash: Cormac McCarthy's "The Road" is Oprah's Latest Selection

    In general, I recommend concrete declarations of time limits (i.e., "today only") to create urgency rather than general statements like "hurry" and "limited time."

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