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