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How Merchants Can Get Shoppers to Open Their Emails

How can you get online shoppers to open your emails rather than clicking them into the virtual trash bin? Subject lines are obviously key, and a marketing company studied hundreds of millions of emails to determine what characteristics got recipients to open them. Perhaps surprisingly, brevity is key – but no surprise, personalization is helpful too.

Retention Science found subject lines with six to 10 words perform best, generating a 21 percent open rate, well above industry standard. Those with subject lines containing five or fewer words ranked second with a 16 percent open rate, and those with 11-15 words returned a minimal 14 percent open rate. Despite this, the company said the majority of emails sent (52 percent) had subject lines in the 11-15 word range.

Retention Science’s research also revealed that 35 percent of emails are opened on mobile devices. Given that most smart phones only display five or six words of a subject line, being brief and concise is even more critical in the mobile marketing world, it said.

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Taking a personalized approach is also shown to help re-engage and retain customers. Of the email campaigns studied, those with the recipient’s first name in the subject line delivered a 2.6 percent increase in open rates compared to those without a name.

How about those often-daily emails sent by retailers advertising “flash sales”? Retention Science found that nearly 80 percent of flash sale email campaigns had subject lines in excess of 20 words – and they consistently underperformed compared to campaigns with shorter subject lines. “Their meager performance can also be attributed to the frequency of which they are sent – flash sale brands tend to email their customers four – eight times a week, whereas the norm for others is two – four times a week,” the company said.

Retention Science analyzed 267 million emails sent across 543 campaigns in the past six months. Results were normalized to account for varying sample sizes. The campaigns involved retailers involved in specialty goods, apparel, baby products, flash sales and nutritional supplements, among others.

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Ina Steiner

Ina Steiner is co-founder and Editor of EcommerceBytes and has been reporting on ecommerce since 1999. Send news tips to

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