Timely Subject Lines I Wish I'd Written

Writing email subject lines is part of what I do every day. That means I’m all too aware that 1) clever subject lines aren’t always more effective than your straightforward, and even dull, versions, and 2) being clever isn’t easy.

So while I have no way of knowing if the subject lines that landed in my inbox this week from U.K. home furnishings retailer Cargo and children’s clothing merchant The Children’s Place generated satisfactory open and clickthrough rates, they are nonetheless worthy of kudos for their creativity, if nothing else. In other words, they persuaded me to open the emails, even though I no longer live in the U.K. and I’d dropped a small fortune on clothing for my child just last week.

 “What are you doing with your 25th hour?” was the subject line of the Cargo email I received on Thursday, three days before the British were scheduled to set the clocks behind one hour to mark the return to Standard Time. It’s a great, unforced tie-in to something that Cargo’s audience is no doubt aware of (and anyone who had forgotten about having to switch the clocks no doubt appreciated the reminder). At the same time, it piques just enough curiosity to encourage recipients to click through.

In the body of the email, which leads off with an attention-grabbing image of colorful alarm clocks, Cargo suggests using that extra hour to take advantage of an extra 25% off certain lines of bedding. The sale was scheduled for just one hour only—not in the wee hours of the morning but rather from 7 to 8 p.m. Limiting the time frame of the sale to just one hour is perfectly in keeping with the theme of the promotion—and it has the added benefit of not costing Cargo too much in lost margin. And for those not in the market for Kirsty Allsop or Orly Healy linens, the email serves a reminder that Cargo is offering 10% off almost everything else in its stores and on its website.

“Fiends & Family Event—25% Off? LAST DAY” read the subject line of the email from The Children’s Place. My first thought, when I saw this at 4 a.m. during another of my sessions with insomnia, was that The Children’s Place had failed to catch an embarrassing typo. I’d like to think that if I’d been more rested I would have immediately recognized this as some sort of Halloween tie-in, but in a way it doesn’t matter: I’ve had email pros tell me that subject lines they’d erroneously sent out, with typos or internal messages such as “TEST,” pulled better than standard subject lines. So while curiosity may kill the cat, it can also spur consumers to open an email.

That’s certainly why I clicked through: to see if “Fiends” was intentional or a typo. And as is clear from the downright adorable cartoon bat on the email message, this is indeed a Halloween promotion. 

The Children’s Place home page, by the way, carried through with the messaging and even more adorable graphics.

Both of these emails serve as reminders that marketing in general, and the crafting of subject lines in specific, is an art as much as a science. And I certainly wish I were artistic enough to come up with something like these messages.

"We're Number One!"

As I’ve noted before, I’m a sucker for cute. So when I received an email from Liberty London informing me of a new, exclusive collection of Hello Kitty goods, including fabulous Liberty fabrics incorporating the epitome of cuteness herself, I had to check them out.

Liberty is a British department store (and if you’ve never visited it, you should definitely make a point of doing so on your next trip to London, especially if you love textiles). A quick Google search, however, showed that Liberty has a U.S.-specific URL, us.liberty.co.uk, as well as its primary liberty.co.uk. address, so I figured that it must ship to the States.

And it does… for a flat fee of £25. Unless the order is especially bulky, in which case the price goes up.

As of this writing, £25 comes to $38.91. I like Hello Kitty, but not that much.

In any event, I was also somewhat annoyed that even though I clicked on the U.S.-specific URL, pricing appears only in pounds. There is no on-site option for converting the currency, and even the international shipping prices are given in sterling.

I decided to visit a few other U.K. websites to see if this is the exception or the rule. Harrods doesn’t have any country-specific URLs, and like Liberty it lists all pricing, including shipping costs, in pounds. Also like Liberty, it charges a standard £25. And Harrods even has its own Hello Kitty collection. 

Hello Kitty may be cute, but apparently she’s also quite the slut.

When I logged on to the John Lewis website, I was greeted with a geographically targeted home page: The top graphic was of the Stars and Stripes in the shape of the U.S., with “We now deliver to the U.S.A.” in large type. Below it were several links to a page detailing its international delivery policies and prices. Again, the fees are all in pounds, though at least it costs only £15 to deliver to the States.

It was more or less the same at the other British stores I visited, though Harvey Nicks and Selfridges don’t even ship overseas, and Debenhams and House of Fraser ship to the States for only £10. Both of the latter sites, incidentally, have a link near the top of their home page calling out their “low international delivery rates,” so they clearly seem to be trying to expand global reach.

Surprisingly, two U.S. department stores put these other sites to shame. I say “surprisingly” because U.S. merchants have long been considered less willing than their European counterparts to accommodate international consumers. But on the bottom of its home page, Macy’s has a flag icon and a link that reads “Change country.” Click the link, and you’re taken to a page with drop-down menus listing scores of countries and currencies. Select the currency of your choice, and as you navigate through the site, nearly all prices will appear in that currency. (The exceptions are the prices on nondynamic promotional banners that appear on some landing pages.) Bloomingdale’s offers the same functionality, with a link on the bottom of its home page that reads “International shipping.”

Both Macy's and Bloomies are well-known destinations for overseas visitors, so a failure to have included this option would have been a true missed opportunity. But Harrods is also a must-visit destination for tourists, so it seems that the venerable British retailer is in fact leaving money on the table. 

And while some retailers might not be able to justify the expense of adding a currency converter to their ecommerce site, surely they could at the very least give the international shipping fees in the intended recipient's local currency. This is particularly so if they're making an effort to woo international customers, as Liberty seems to be doing with its U.S.-specific URL and John Lewis with its geotargeted home page.

Who’d have thought that the xenophobic Yanks would have bested the more global-minded Brits at accommodating international consumers? If I were still living in England, this would be an opportunity for me to hoist my fingers in the air and declare, in my most American accent, “We’re number one!”