By Jenica Jessen, Persado Campaign Manager
What’s not to love about free shipping? It makes online purchases easier, reduces cart abandonment and encourages spending. It should be a win-win for customers and retailers. But if adding “free shipping” to your subject lines didn’t magically boost your metrics, you might be wondering whether it’s really effective for email marketing. And if it is engaging customers, is it possible to utilize it better?
Persado’s platform is designed to track the exact impact of specific words, phrases, emotions and offers on an audience, making it possible for us to pinpoint exactly what works and what doesn’t. We’ve done this with more than 2,000 “free shipping” subject lines, and we’re sharing the insights and analysis we’ve gleaned for the first time.
So, Does It Actually Work?
Free shipping isn’t a magic bullet, even if it can be attractive to customers. We’ve compared “free shipping” to hundreds of other possible phrases, and it usually ranks in the middle of the pack. It’s performed better than phrases like “offers on t-shirts and more” but worse than ones like “confirmed savings” or “code SAVEBIG.” Additionally, several subject line experiments at Persado have shown that in some cases there might not be a significant difference between saying “free shipping” and not mentioning it at all.
How could this be, if free shipping is generally successful for marketing? When a customer encounters an email, they’re only at the very beginning of their purchase cycle—and free shipping may not even be relevant to them until the very end. Free shipping matters most when a customer is about to check out. It matters least when you haven’t even convinced them to open your email.
However, Persado’s email testing data shows that putting “free shipping” into a subject line can be an effective way to get customers to open, click and (most importantly) buy. Rather than asking whether or not free shipping works for email marketing, let’s find out when it does and does not work.
In large part, the effectiveness of mentioning any discount in your subject line depends on how often your brand runs similar discounts. If free shipping is rare or unusual for your company, customers are more likely to respond. If it’s a standard offer, mentioning it in a subject line will be much less impactful.
Some industries notice a greater impact from using “free shipping” than others. On average, household-good retailers see around 15% higher open rates than fashion retailers do. This makes sense from the consumer’s standpoint since it’s usually more expensive to ship a bookshelf than a sweater.
The effectiveness of mentioning “free shipping” can also depend on a company’s brand voice. Generally, a more promotion-oriented brand will see less impact from a free shipping discount, but businesses with a more editorial voice will get higher engagement when they occasionally make the same offer.
Optimizing the Offer
Regardless of whether or not “free shipping” works for your brand, there are ways to improve. At Persado we’re constantly testing and retesting, finding new and better ways to express ideas and create the best email marketing campaigns. If you want to include a free shipping discount in your message, see if these strategies make you stand out:
Switch Up Your Phrasing
Free shipping in one form or another is an extremely common offer—so far in 2018, Persado has tested nearly 500 messages containing this discount. It’s so common that customers can easily ignore it as they skim through their inboxes. Adjusting the phrasing of the offer can drastically improve engagement simply by forcing the customer to pay closer attention. Across dozens of tests, the following phrases have proven to be more effective than “free shipping”:
- “Free delivery”
- “Shipping’s on us”
- “Delivery is free”
Try adding one of these to your subject line the next time you’re writing about shipping things for free and see how your audience reacts!
Make It Stand Out
When a discount is more eye-catching, customers are more likely to open or click on your email. If brand guidelines allow, you might try putting the shipping offer in all caps or placing a symbol or two nearby to highlight it. You can also experiment with positioning; you may see a boost in results just from moving the discount from the end of the message to the beginning. In general, Persado’s data indicates that the positioning of message elements contributes about 12% to overall customer engagement, while formatting elements like symbols contribute around 14%.
Use Emotional Language
While positioning and formatting both make significant contributions to engagement, our testing has shown that the single biggest factor in driving customers to action is emotional language—contributing almost 62%. You can make your free shipping discount really stand out with phrases that engage your customers as people, rather than as product-buying robots. Try expressing some Gratitude for your customers (“This free shipping is a thank-you”), or give them a sense of Achievement (“You’ve scored free shipping!”).
While many of these strategies can make free shipping discounts work better for email marketing in general, some techniques might be more or less effective for your particular situation. At Persado, we have the tools and experience necessary to determine what emotional language, formatting elements and descriptive phrasing will be most effective for a specific company, brand or even campaign. To learn more about how we generate our insights and use them to take email marketing to the next level, please fill out the form below.