Read Time: 6 min

What can we learn from retail email? Webinar Recording + Q&A


2020 has thrown the biggest of wrenches into just about everything—including email marketing strategies and tactics. For retailers, who rely on email to get people in the door (both physically and digitally), it’s left them reeling. Pandemics, political and social unrest, and low level anxiety pretty much everywhere… there’s not much that inspires people to part with their money.

But—even as the definition of successful retail email marketing has changed—some retailers have found success speaking to all of those challenges. And they’ve won customers over in the process. We teamed up with our friends from Really Good Emails and National Geographic to review some of our favorite retail emails from the past year: what we liked about them, where we think they could improve, and the key learnings email marketers from any industry can take away.

Didn’t have a chance to watch the webinar live? Don’t worry. You can access the full recording at any time and read the Q&A below.


A big thank you to everyone who chimed in during the webinar with a question! Here’s a recap of our answers to the most popular questions, along with our take on some of the questions we didn’t get to during the live webinar. Have any additional questions? Please leave them in the comments.

Inboxes will be very competitive this holiday season with all brands turning to digital when stores are closed. What’s the best way to stand out?

Rita Spinks: Subject line. It has an extreme amount of importance on people opening your emails. You want all the information there—but balancing catchy copy with actually giving customers what they’re looking for. Hidden preheaders are something that I don’t feel like retailers use enough, either.

Whitney Rudeseal Peet: Something to not do (true always, but especially right now) is to use any kind of misleading subject line to trick someone into opening your email. Don’t fake that the email is a forwarded message or a reply to something, don’t pretend that the email is a threaded conversation with the sender name. I don’t want to have any question about who this email is from and why I’m getting it, so if there’s something off about your email, I’m probably just going to trash it.

Matt Helbig: I’m really interested to find out what’s going to happen around Black Friday and Cyber Monday. I’ll appreciate brands that don’t make me feel stressed out about sales; I don’t want to be refreshing a page at 11:59 at night to make sure I get an offer. Make deals a bit more accessible to people.

Jason Rodriguez: My advice would be to lay the groundwork now. If you have that good relationship with your subscribers to begin with, they’ll be looking for your emails in a couple months. They know what value you’ll provide to them and they trust you.

We are exclusively a brick and mortar retailer. Any magically delicious ideas for driving people into the store?

Rita Spinks: Starbucks does a great job of this as a nearly exclusive brick and mortar store. Being really clear about what you’re doing to make people safe and feel comfortable coming in and staying as transparent as possible is your best bet.

Whitney Rudeseal Peet: If possible, I’d also recommend providing options for your customers to meet them where they are. I’ve seen a lot of retail stores provide options like curbside and some even shifting towards online orders or, at the very least, online reservations so you can go into the store and pick up your items, minimizing the time you spend around others.

Matt Helbig: I feel like brands might take those steps to take things online to learn more about a product or even reserve things online so when you do go into the store, it’s a better checkout experience.

What time is most optimal to send retail emails at the moment?

Whitney Rudeseal Peet: I really hate to give this answer at this point but… it depends. A lot of timing that used to work for some brands just isn’t working anymore and they’re having to test out different strategies to see what works right now. My best recommendation is to try out a couple of different things; if you used to target those in the morning commute, maybe try an hour or so later than that when they’re having their morning coffee. Always be testing!

Where is the best place to find emails for competitor audits, to see what other people are sending to their subscribers?

Jason Rodriguez: Matt, I’ll let you take this one… seems like something you might know?

Matt Helbig: Really Good Emails has a pretty good collection of searchable emails, with a whole retail category… might be a good start.

Jason Rodriguez: Definitely, Really Good Emails is a go-to for us to see what’s out there. But I also advise to use your own inbox. Sign up for everything you see to get a sense of what people are doing. If you don’t want all those emails to go to your main inbox, sign up for an email alias for that purpose.

What is a good way for retailers to broach the uncertainty of possible shipping delays?

Rita Spinks: That’s a tough one. What I’ve seen companies do well (like Old Navy) is provide clear messaging around the possible delays. Things like “this might take longer than expected, please bear with us.” I think I even got an extra 10% off code to use when I hit the one month mark of shipping delay. My biggest advice is that you can’t do anything about shipping times, but you can have excellent customer service. Send them emails on a regular basis to provide updates on what’s happening with the product.

Jason Rodriguez: Be honest and upfront. There are definitely things I’ve ordered over the last couple of months and it’s just been radio silence, the most frustrating experience. So if you can keep in contact with customers and reassure them you’re still trying to get them their purchase as soon as possible, that’s the right way to do it.

Jason Rodriguez

Jason Rodriguez

Jason Rodriguez was the Community & Product Evangelist at Litmus