Urban Outfitters Pumpkin Hero

Back to Basics

From: UrbanOutfitters.com
Date: 9/18/15
Subject Line: Click on the 🎃 to Shop Halloween →

Urban Oufitters

My first thought when I opened this email was, “What the— What’s going on?” The entire email is filled with pumpkins overlapping one another continuously in an animated gif. It didn’t take me long to find the instructions in the subject line: Click on the 🎃 to Shop Halloween →. Of course the pumpkins all say “Shop Halloween” as well, but they aren’t immediately apparent as clickable.

I liked the use of the pumpkin emoji in the subject line. The email is a unique idea and it definitely got my attention. However, I’m curious how successful the email campaign was. I have three immediate concerns: 1) lack of product imagery, 2) will the instructions in the subject line be overlooked? and 3) is this email too gimmicky? It brings me back to the days of flashing banners to get attention. Are we past that now or does this strategy still work? I’d love to hear your thoughts. Would you click on this email? Let us know what you think on our Code à la Mode Facebook page.

One other observation worth mentioning is that the pumpkins appear quite differently in various email platforms. Here are some screenshots to illustrate. If you’re planning on using a special character in your email or subject line, it might be worth checking out all the versions people will be seeing (email platforms and smart phones alike). You won’t be able to change how it looks, but it may influence your decision about using it all together. See more on special character rendering in subject lines from a previous post by Lyla here.

Gmail Pumpkin
Yahoo Pumpkin
Hotmail Pumpkin

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Sale 101 Hero

Sale Messaging 101

Email marketing can’t be treated like any other form of marketing. Unlike print or websites, emails must follow different standards for language and design. Find out how you can optimize your SALE email message with my tips below!


Email marketing has a bad rep. People automatically associate it with the dreaded 4-letter word: “SPAM.” If your message seems even the least bit misleading, that’s exactly what you’ll be considered. The words “UP TO” or “AS LOW AS” in a sale message can be off-putting to a subscriber. Here’s why: When a subscriber sees “UP TO 70% OFF” they fear they’ll find one item that is 70% OFF while the remainder are nearly full price. It feels like a trick. You can be sure if they do click through and find that their fears were justified, they won’t be making that mistake twice. You’ve just lost all credibility.

Here are a few guidelines to follow to avoid misleading language and keep your subscribers happy.

40% (or more) off shoes
Use the mode percentage (percentage that appears most frequently), rather than the highest savings. This will set a more accurate representation of what you have to offer and won’t lead to disappointment. If everyone followed this simple rule, the only time we’d see “up to” is when the majority of products were at the max discount possible. Even if that’s the situation for you, I suggest not using it because abusers have ruined this phrase for all of us. This is why we can’t have nice things. 😉

Save 25% on ALMOST everything!
This can be a nice way to call out the mode as well, but only use phrases like “almost all” or “nearly all” if it’s true. Don’t be the boy that cried wolf.

60% off hundreds of items!
Help alleviate the worry of limited selection by calling out the number of products on sale. This can be generalized (40% off half of our store) or separated into categories (more than 25 shoes now 60% off) as well.

All shoes 70% off, All shirts under $20
If your savings can encompass an entire section, use it to your advantage. Provide separate links for the different categories or price points.

30-60% off the entire store
Use a savings range. It’s not the most glamorous solution but it’s honest and if used in combination with images and a breakdown of savings it can be a great option.

HUGE summer sale!
Omit percentages or prices all together. Use creative language or urgency to get your message across. Don’t overdo it if your sale isn’t really that great though or you might lose future clicks.


Unlike other mediums, emails require the extra step of clicking-through. So, what may keep a subscriber from clicking?

One factor is the fear that they won’t find good deals or worthwhile products. Show that you have something to offer by including product images that highlight the discount. It will also provide visual queues to spark the subscriber’s interest.

Another factor is that they’ve grown numb to seeing the same text-based sale message again and again. If you’re sending frequently, varying product images will also help to keep your designs from getting stale and will show the customer that there’s something new to check out.

Although product images aren’t always needed, I find myself much more likely to click on an email that includes them. If you choose to go without them, find other ways to make your message interesting. Animation is a nice eye-catching solution. You can also mix in fun graphics. A clever theme or wording can really make an email stand out too. Just remember not to reuse the same image-less design again and again or it will lose its allure, no matter how good your deals are.

Here are some examples of sale emails done right:

From: Pottery Barn Kids
Date: 9/15/15
Subject Line: FURNITURE FLEA! Up to 40% off fresh new finds ☚

This email from Pottery Barn Kids is a great example of how to include product images in a sale email and highlight the savings. Although it uses the words “up to,” it shows there are many worthwhile products with great savings to check out.

Pottery Barn Kids

From: ThinkGeek Overlords
Date: 9/15/15
Subject Line: 20% off (or more!) on some of our greatest hits: press play & SHOP!

With the title “30 Greatest Hits: 20% OFF or much, much more!”, ThinkGeek shows us how to avoid the words “up to” by using the mode percentage. They also mention how many products can be found and they provide some product images as well. Score!


Date: 9/16/15
Subject Line: Fall Bake Sale! 20% Off Pans, Mixes & More – In Stores & Online

This email from Williams-Sonoma is a nice example of how to include click-worthy images even when you can’t call out products specifically (due to inventory issues or what-have-you). What they do instead is include an image to represent each category. The key is to choose images placed in a setting to make it feel more generalized. These pictures give the feeling of the baking process or entertaining, as opposed to a cut-out image of a baking tool.

When I look at this email and see the picture of the beautiful pecan pie, it inspires me to shop for Thanksgiving. When I see the mixing bowls, I’m reminded that my set could use an update. I’m, personally, 100 times more likely to click on this email than an email that just says SALE. I don’t need to use my imagination to know what treasures I may find.


From: J. Crew
Date: 9/14/15
Subject Line: Don’t forget to shop 25% off select fall must-haves (ends tonight)
Date: 9/10/15
Subject Line: It’s the end of you-know-what. Here’s how to cope…

J. Crew delivered these unique image-less emails. Clever wording can sometimes be enough to attract interest from time to time. Just don’t over-use it, or it will get old fast.

J. Crew  J. Crew

From: Crazy 8
Date: 9/18/15
Subject Line: Entire site up to 65% off, 4 days only!

Crazy 8 does a great job at using a savings range in this example. They mention the range at the top of the email (entire site 40-65% off), and then go on to explain what can be found at which percentages (40% off regular price items and 20% off all markdowns). They also included a product image which is nice, but I would love to see more images. It’s also too bad they used the “up to” phrase in the subject line.

Crazy 8

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How It's Made Hero

How It’s Made

Sometimes the thing that makes a product shine is how it’s produced. The love, time and craftsmanship that goes into each piece can make it entirely unique. What better way to let people know how it’s made than an email highlighting the ins-and-outs of the process. These emails contain photos of the products being made and the people that make them. They highlight stories about where they come from, the history behind the products, and what makes them special. You can even learn how buying them can help a cause.

From: Crate and Barrel
Date: 8/21/15
Subject Line: 15% off + 5 reasons you’ll love a Crate and Barrel sofa.

I love how digestible this content is. It’s broken down into 5 sections, each with a short and to-the-point title. The pictures selected for numbers 1, 3 and 4 show the behind-the-scenes process well, which are a fantastic addition. I’m not sure that I like how much real estate the sale message takes up at the top, but at least they do a nice job tying the two messages together with the title “5 Reasons Your Next Sofa Should Be a Crate and Barrel Sofa.”

Crate and Barrel

From: UncommonGoods
Date: 8/24/15
Subject Line: These Goods Have Roots

This email has nice flow with the left-to-right image placement and overlapping pictures. I also appreciate the variety of image types which include both square-cuts and cut-outs, as well as products and process shots. However, the copy in this example isn’t very scannable. Some bolded headlines or keywords could help with that.

Uncommon Goods

From: west elm & Rejuvenation
Date: 8/26/15
Subject Line: Meet Rejuvenation + take 20% off!

This email’s focus isn’t the craftsmanship, but it’s included as a supporting selling point. I like the way they integrated the information with the color block + arrow and the behind-the-scenes image of the product being assembled. It’s just the small touches like this that make a product stand out as being more special.


From: west elm
Date: 9/08/15
Subject Line: We’re changing the world, one handcrafted piece at a time.

As opposed to the last email from West Elm, this one is solely focused on the craftsmanship behind the products. It takes a much different approach than the other examples with an entire lack of story. Instead they use a giant hero image that makes the message clear, along with a title and a link to learn more. This email is great for those with short attention spans that don’t want to do a lot of reading, and the call-to-action to learn more can help to drive click-throughs. My only gripe is the opening title is a bit wordy – I might swap the sub-header with the headline.

West Elm

To sum it up, sending an email like this is a great way to show your product has more to offer than the average cookie-cutter product straight off the assembly line. Highlighting the custom work, small details and the thought put into each design can really set your products apart from the competitors. As we’ve learned from these examples, it’s a good idea to include images of the products being made and remember to make text scannable by using bold headlines or keywords.

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Soft Sale Hero

The Soft Sale

Rather than going for the hard sale, these emails offer advice ranging from what’s trending in fashion, different ways to keep warm, and a summer bucket list. Contrary to the norm, the designs don’t have product names or prices, but instead support their theme with product imagery.

From: Maurices
Date: 9/06/15
Subject Line: Five fall finds just for you

Maurices offers fall advice from their “trend expert,” Angela. By including her picture, the email is instantly given a more personal, less salesy vibe. They did a great job keeping Angela’s quotes short and to the point. The fashion tips are generalized enough to be viewed as advice rather than a specific product recommendation. I love the incorporation of the product images; the large, staggered, drop-shadowed cut-outs really have a lot of presence.


From: LOFT
Date: 9/04/15
Subject Line: 6 things to do before summer’s over…

LOFT really stands out as the softest sale of the bunch. Taking the angle of a “summer bucket list,” the email highlights an astonishing number of non-product related to-do’s. The first two on the list (the two that appear above the fold I might add) aren’t related to products at all, but rather brunch and books. A bold move. However, they subliminally throw a product into the mix by featuring an image of a woman in LOFT clothing eating brunch. A very low pressure and creative technique that I love. I also enjoy the staggered images, numbered list, and easily-digestible copy. In fact, the wordiest part of the email is the headline and sub-header. My only suggestion would be to shorten those a bit and tighten it up on height.


From: LOFT
Date: 8/27/15
Subject Line: How to layer right now

This email from LOFT suggests different ways to layer clothing for changing climates. By making general statements about scarves, cardigans, and jackets, it feels more like a suggestion and less like a push. I like the overlaying images, again, staggered for flow. My only problem is with the sale banner at the top. It has been given prime real estate, yet doesn’t go with the design, theme, or subject line. I would suggest moving it to the bottom of the email. If it MUST stay at the top, I suggest finding a way to tie it in with the rest of the message. Something like: Layer on These Savings.


From: Gap
Date: 8/25/15
Subject Line: guide to fall style: overalls, tunics…

Gap takes the angle of “your guide to fall,” suggesting general clothing like denim, overalls and stripes. I have to say I LOVE the numbered-list treatment on this email – very unique and fun. Again, nice job staggering the information for flow. You may be tired of hearing me say that, but it’s important to remember when dealing with a long, narrow design. I like that each product is shown at full length for context, as well as cropped in to focus on the tip being featured. My gripe on this one, again, is the banner at the top. It distracts from the design, pushes the message down, and completely negates the soft sale approach. My suggestion is the same as the LOFT layering email.


My take-away: Sending out an occasional soft-sale message is a great idea. It’s a perfect opportunity to add-value by offering helpful advice to your subscribers. No one wants to be told what they need to buy all the time. Give enough information to keep them informed and let them find their way to your trend-setting stash.

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Retention Email Hero

An Eye Catching Retention Email

This retention email from Bath & Body Works was fun! The animated gif grabbed my attention right away. The theme was cute with the product playing hide-and-seek (peek-a-boo) and asking “Where’d you go?” The call to action in the heart with the wording “Let’s Play!” was a nice touch. My only suggestion — I could always use a little more incentive (eh-hem, a discount, or at least some enticing new products to check out) to get me to click through. Overall, nicely done!

From: Bath & Body Works
Date: 8/31/15
Subject Line: Something’s missing.
See the animation.

Bath and Body Works

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Inspiring Blog Hero

Inspiration Becomes Reality

I look to many brands as a source of inspiration — whether it be for fashion, cooking or decorating. I’ll evaluate the design, dissecting each element to determine what makes it so great. I love that these emails do the work for you. They pull you in with an entrancing image, and then break down the products that bring the final look together.

From: Anthropologie
Date: 9/06/15
Subject Line: Out-of-sight outerwear + final days, 30% OFF.


From: Rejuvenation
Date: 8/12/15
Subject Line: Looking to update your bath? Start here with Free Shipping!‏


From: Sur La Table
Date: 8/01/15
Subject Line: Recipes & tips for a Thai-inspired stir-fry

Sur La Table

From: J. Crew
Date: 9/06/15
Subject Line: September in 60 seconds: the shoe, the jacket, the sweater & more

J. Crew

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Urban Outfitters Hero

A Retro Email Series

The 60s and 70s are making a comeback. I’ve seen bell-bottoms and high-waisted pants featured by many different brands. But no other emails have set the tone as well as this series from Urban Outfitters. Their gold-toned photographs, color choices and graphics really make the products shine in their original glory. Each email is uniquely designed and manage to pull off a fun, attention grabbing and flowing design.

From: UrbanOutfitters.com
Date: 8/28/15
Subject Line: Tuck yourself in…

Urban Outfitters

From: UrbanOutfitters.com
Date: 8/26/15
Subject Line: The new dress silhouette of the season →

Urban Outfitters

From: UrbanOutfitters.com
Date: 8/24/15
Subject Line: Fall layers: we’re ready to go back.

Urban Outfitters

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