The most engaging and effective retail email subject lines

What happens when you don’t take the time to craft effective retail email subject lines? 

Skilled digital marketers already know—it means lower click-through rates, loss of potential sales, and less effective email marketing campaigns.

Don’t worry. We’re here to help. We’ve put together a list of the best types of email subject lines to use in e-commerce, along with tips and tricks to help you create enticing subject lines for your email campaigns. 

What makes a retail email subject line effective?

Subject lines are an essential part of your retail emails—maybe even more important than the actual copy. An ineffective one may lead customers to delete the email without even checking it out first.  

An engaging subject line, on the other hand, piques the interest of your customers without giving too much information away. It’s compelling enough for customers to want to open the email and read the rest of your message.

How do you craft a retail email subject line that will boost engagement?

We don’t want you to overthink this. Good subject lines don’t have to be complicated and intricate. In fact, the opposite is often true: Short and sweet ones can earn more conversions, provided they don’t sound gimmicky.

Let’s go through a short checklist of email subject line pointers together:

  • Avoid being repetitive: Even with routine emails that cover the same topic, unique subject lines are a must. Think about it. Would you want to see rows the same spammy subject line in your inbox? 

  • Show some creativity: Sometimes, rearranging words or adding an emoji isn’t enough. If you’re feeling stuck, try alliteration or rhyming to break the monotony and get your creative juices flowing.

  • Be sincere and self-aware: People respond well to brands with a well-defined identity and voice and like them more when they display sincerity. Don’t beat around the bush and be transparent about your intentions. 

  • Understand your audience: Take the time to learn more about the people receiving your emails, so you can be more successful in converting email subscribers to regular customers.

  • Keep it simple and straight to the point: Modern technology makes it difficult for people to consume more than a little bit of content at a time. Make subject lines brief and instantly understandable.

  • Give customers a reason to read on: Seems like a no brainer, but you’d be surprised how many email subject lines fail at this. When subject lines are left until the last minute, quality can suffer. 

Remember to conduct A/B testing to find out what types of retail email subject lines work best for you. Trying out several subject lines on the same email copy is an affordable, painless and efficient way to gauge how to write subject lines to coax maximum conversion from your customers.

8 formats that result in excellent retail email subject lines

We went through hundreds of emails and chose the ones with standout subject lines: favorites that grabbed our attention, left us wanting to learn more, and got us to open and read the entire message. 

These email subject lines are listed below—grouped together by format—with accompanying explanations to drive home exactly what makes them engaging and effective.

Offering deals and discounts

Adding words like “complimentary” or “exclusive” make people click more often. A good amount of your email subscribers sign up because they look forward to special offers and discounted items.

A good amount of your email subscribers sign up because they look forward to special offers and discounted items.

Source: Campaign Monitor

Here are some examples of retail email subject lines that touch on this desire:

  • Guess: “25% off your favorites”

  • Sephora: “You’re invited: 10% off for Beauty Insiders”

  • HP: “Time is running out… Save up to $300”

  • La Mer: “Exclusive offer: Free samples of award-winning facial masks”

  • Rapha: “Complimentary gift wrap on all purchases”

Use numbers as much as you can. This will help your emails stand out from others’ in a full inbox. People will be more likely to click on your “20% off” or “Up to $100” emails, in the same way, more people read “5 ways” or “10 reasons” list-formatted blogs. 

Encouraging referrals

A variation on offering deals, the referral retail email comes with its own format for subject lines. 

Here are a few straightforward referral subject lines:

  • Rip Curl: “Pass on the savings”

  • Guess: “Refer a friend and save big”

  • Nissan: “Bring a friend to our event and save”

  • Birchbox: “Tell a friend. Get a month free.”

  • Sephora: “Bring a friend to our VIP party”

You should use the word “friend”—along with “free” or variations of the word “save”—to convey the purpose of the email clearly.

Using scarcity or urgency 

These retail email subject lines work by tapping into the very real fear of missing out. Sometimes the possibility of losing something is more compelling than the promise of getting something, even when it’s for free. 

Sometimes the possibility of losing something is more compelling than the promise of getting something, even when it’s for free.

Source: Really Good Emails

Reminding your customers of sale deadlines or dwindling stocks of a bestseller can encouraging them to take advantage of a special offer at the last minute.

Here are some of the most convincing email subject lines:

  • Birchbox: “Last chance to get in on this hot deal”

  • Sephora: “Last day: Pick your 5 faves”

  • Converse: “Ending in 24 hours: 25% off sitewide”

  • Rapha: “Your savings code expires today”

  • La Mer: “Get it while it’s in stock”

Words like “today” and “last” work well here. Phrases like “act now” or “don’t miss out” are common, but can be used sparingly.

Sharing timely information

Rather than wanting people to feel hurried, these subject lines are meant to share details that loyal customers will appreciate finding out about right away. Think of them as exciting, energizing announcements.

Rather than wanting people to feel hurried, these subject lines are meant to share details that loyal customers will appreciate finding out about right away.

Source: Campaign Monitor

Here are our favorite retail email subject lines in this format:

  • Nissan: “Your inside look at the all-new 2017 Nissan Armada”

  • HP: “New must-haves for your office”

  • Topshop: “Minimal and cool, the new collection is here”

  • Pizza Hut: “New toppings. New dinner plans.”

  • Converse: “Converse custom prints for spring”

Emails using this kind of subject line are usually sent out to introduce new arrivals, new product lines, seasonal offerings or restocks. 

Mentioning famous names

This is a great tactic, even if your brand isn’t running an official endorsement campaign. You can mention celebrities in connection with your products and services in an elegant and natural manner, especially if their public persona aligns with your brand identity.

This is a great tactic, even if your brand isn’t running an official endorsement campaign.

Source: Campaign Monitor

Here are retail email subject line examples that feature name recognition:

  • Topshop: “New Beyoncé line is just two days away”

  • Rapha: “As worn in the World Tour”

  • Guess: “You won’t believe who’s partnered with us”

  • Sephora: “Products the celebs are wearing”

  • Seafolly: “Swimsuits of celebrities”

There’s an element of vanity involved here, too. When people admire celebrities, some of that admiration can translate into a desire to emulate what they can—even if it’s just what a celebrity consumes or wears.

Solving problems and answering questions

You can think of these “how-to” subject lines as encapsulations of specific advice discussed in your email’s body. 

How well you know your audience plays a huge part in the success of these emails. The information you promise with these retail email subject lines needs to be valuable and sought-after to be engaging.

Let’s look at some great “how-to” email subject lines:

  • De Beers: “Uncover your bridal style”

  • HP: “Solve all your printing problems”

  • La Mer: “Age-defying beauty tricks”

  • Guess: “Wanted: Cute and affordable fashions”

  • IKEA: “Where do all these toys go?”

Surprisingly, questions fit into this format, too. Asking your customers something invites immediate engagement, too. Use open-ended questions to sustain interest and keep the conversation going.

Relying on curiosity or humor

Let your creativity shine with this format, but don’t forget to maintain your brand’s voice. 

If your brand identity is seen as formal, for example, you may want to stray away from making outright jokes. Puns and clever wordplay may still be fair game, though as well as giving off a sense of mystery.

f your brand identity is seen as formal, for example, you may want to stray away from making outright jokes.

Source: Really Good Emails

Check out these funny and curiosity-inducing subject lines:

  • Warby Parker: “Pairs nicely with spreadsheets”

  • Groupon: “Deals That Make Us Proud (Unlike Our Nephew, Steve)”

  • GrubHub: “Last Day To See What This Mystery Email Is All About”

  • Thrillist: “Try To Avoid These 27 People On New Year’s Eve”

  • Manicube: “*Don’t Open This Email*”

Why did we put curiosity and humor in one format? Because both work best with a dash of cleverness and a shot of wit. In fact, sometimes just adding something unexpected or unusual can get your open rates to go up. 

Making it personalized

Last but definitely not the least, we have the personalization strategy. People will respond favorably to seeing their name on your retail email subject line.

Last but definitely not the least, we have the personalization strategy. People will respond favorably to seeing their name on your retail email subject line.

Source: Really Good Emails

The best part of personalizing subject lines is that they’re easy to execute. For example:

  • Jersey Mike’s Subs: “Lisa, Earn double points today only”

  • Rent the Runway: “Happy Birthday Mary – Surprise Inside!”

  • Pizza Hut: “Bob, try our new treat”

  • Seafolly: “Hot new summer arrivals just for you”

  • Guess: “Lindsey, check out these hand-picked looks”

You can also craft retail emails based on customer location or buying behavior—such as recent purchases, which works well with trigger-based email marketing—and add those details in your subject lines.

Wrap up

Retail email subject lines are a key component of email marketing campaigns. To get the best conversion rates, you should be mindful about what’s in your subject lines before sending your retail emails out.

Develop a consistent brand identity and get to know your audience. A sincere connection will make it easier to deliver engaging messages that resonate.

Here are some email subject line formats that work well with retail: 

  • Offering deals and discounts

  • Encouraging referrals

  • Using scarcity or urgency

  • Sharing timely information

  • Mentioning famous names

  • Solving problems and answering questions

  • Relying on curiosity or humor

  • Making it personalized

Looking for more examples? Get inspired by these attention-grabbing email subject lines and start creating irresistible and distinctive retail email subject lines of your own.

About the Author

Emma Email

Emma is an email marketing platform that gives you all the tools you need to send campaigns that really connect with your subscribers. Unlike other email providers, Emma puts their customers first. It's email marketing that works for you.

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