One of the biggest challenges for email marketers is to stand out in today’s typically overcrowded inbox, but if you’re a retailer whose ultimate mission in life is to maximize sales, then your challenge is even bigger because you face competition from countless other retailers who are just as fierce about their own (identical) agenda. So what’s a retailer to do when there are legitimate sales or promotions to plug on a regular basis?

Consider this: If someone subscribes to your brand’s emails, it’s highly likely that they subscribe to emails from similar brands as well. For example, fashion-loving women who are inclined to subscribe to emails from fashion retailers in the first place are almost certainly subscribing to more than one. And if you consider that all retailers will from time to time want to advertise a sale or promotion, you can imagine how the typical subscriber must feel when her inbox is bombarded with constant enticements to buy, buy, buy.

In fact, since most subscribers scan their overflowing inboxes with lightning speed and decide in just seconds whether to read an email, save it for later or delete it without even opening it, subject lines that look too similar to each other stand a lesser chance of grabbing the subscriber’s attention, especially if they include an obvious sales pitch (even if presented as a benefit).

Here’s how the inbox of a fashion-loving subscriber (um, yes, guilty as charged) looks come Sale time (Cyber Monday 2013 in this case):

Cyber Monday 2013 - Inbox Screenshot

Although this example is probably heavier than usual on the “salesy” language since Cyber Monday is in fact a day of sales, the point of it is to demonstrate that most retailers (highlighted in red in the graphic above) forget that when they craft their subject lines for emails that promote a sale or discount promotion, they use predictable language that just about everyone else is using too.

In order to stand out, email marketers may want to up their copywriting game to craft subject lines that promote sales more creatively without always stating the obvious. That’s not to say that Sale Email subject lines should always be overly clever and laboriously witty because that may actually have the opposite effect, but if they are interesting or entertaining enough to pique the subscriber’s curiosity, they can achieve the intended result.

Here are some tips to consider when crafting subject lines and promotional concepts for Sale Emails:


Sale Email example from Smiggle

1. Try to create a sale ‘theme’ or gimmick.  Subject lines that begin with predictable “salesy” terms like “Sale” or “% off” or “Today only” or “Don’t miss out” (you get the picture) are okay to use sparingly from time to time, but these days they are used so frequently that their value starts to become meaningless as one Sale Email becomes indistinguishable from the next. But create a concept that’s a little more out of the ordinary – like these examples from Firebox, Loft, Smiggle and Banana Republic – and the Sale suddenly becomes more interesting almost just by virtue of being different, and therefore more enticing to check out.



Sale Email example from Loft

2. Choose a specific item to be the “hero” of the sale. Since most Sales usually apply to all products across the board, subscribers can always count on the fact that from time to time they will benefit from reduced prices on everything, so if they miss out on one Sale, they know that the next one is probably not far behind. But when you promote reduced prices on a specific item (even if the sale applies to other items as well) – like these examples from LOFT, David Jones and Madewell – it adds an element of interest and urgency to what might have otherwise been a typical, run-of-the-mill sale.



Sale Email from Threadless

Sale Email from Threadless

3. Make it funny. Subscribers expect marketers to lure them with sales all the time, so when they see subject lines that look as though they were created to entertain despite their obvious intention, sometimes mere appreciation for the marketer’s efforts to spare the subscriber from yet another predictable “Sale” announcement is enough to inspire an open. And when a subject line makes you smile – like these examples from Threadless, another one from ThreadlessUrban Outfitters and Rue La La – it’s hard not to reward it with an open.


Check out our Inspiration Gallery for some more great examples of Sale Emails and learn more about how to write subject lines that get emails opened (with awesome examples from great brands!).