It’s the most romantic day of the year and for marketers, Valentine’s Day is certainly about seduction. Now one of the most important sales periods of the retail calendar, Valentine’s Day has become the perfect opportunity for email marketers to try and tempt consumers into treating themselves and their loved ones. I took a sample of 48 Valentine’s Day-themed emails that landed in my inbox between 1st and 14th February to see if I could see any trends, similarities or stark differences among the messages.
The most obvious finding was that free delivery was the most popular “chat-up line” in Valentine’s emails. Of the sample of 48, free delivery was featured in 20, or almost 42 percent of emails. With some retailers, the offer of free delivery was unrelated to Valentine’s. That is, the retailer already offered free shipping as standard—as in the case of homewares marketer Bodie & Fou, which promotes free p&p on orders of £80 or more, or ethical apparel etailer People Tree, where customers spending £70 or more are rewarded with free shipping.
Others, like apparel retailers Toast and White Stuff and homewares etailer Mydeco, offered free delivery on every order but for a very limited period. Some emails, especially those sent out near delivery cut-off times, promoted “free upgrades” to express shipping. Capitalising on the last-minute shopper, gifts cataloguer/etailer The Handpicked Collection sent an email on Saturday, 11th February offering next-day delivery (worth £8.50) for the same price as standard delivery (£4.95). The Handpicked Collection was really feeling the love this Valentine’s as not only did it offer premium shipping at almost half the price, it also took 15 percent off Valentine’s gifts for the last two remaining shopping days.
Speaking of discounts, The Handpicked Collection was one of 18, or 38 percent, of emails that promoted a sale or discount. On Valentine’s Day itself, kitchenware brand Emma Bridgewater sent its customer database the offer of 14 percent off an order if placed by midnight. Debenhams was one of the early birds, sending an email on 1st February that promoted 10 percent off all fragrances and gift sets for two weeks. Themed as a countdown to Valentine’s Day, I rather liked Debenhams’ new take on the 12 days of Christmas: it ran a daily deal programme with a different promotion on offer every day in the run-up to 14th February. The final offer was for 20 percent off women’s dresses. I don’t know about you, but I got bored of the 12 days of Christmas promotion very quickly last year and while I like what Debenhams has done, if adopted by everyone else, it will soon lose its novelty. And while we’re on the subject of novel, we all know a way to a man’s heart is through his stomach. Seems that The Fish Society, a mail order and online fishmonger, believes it too; it was offering 10 percent off caviar.
The next most popular promotion was a competition or prize draw. Perfume etailer Escentual.com went for a Valentine’s themed competition asking subscribers to describe what love means to them to be in with a chance of winning £300 worth of goodies. The Hut.com ran a competition centred around the film One Day, with the prize of a trip to Paris. Cookware retailer Procook went for a more modest prize of a silicon bakeware set worth £36.
What surprised me most was that a quarter of the emails I analysed featured no special offer at all. With each one of the emails in my sample mentioning the word Valentine somewhere in the body copy, what were these emails saying if it wasn’t an urgent message to order now? At environmentally aware brand Love Eco, the Valentine theme meant promoting the company’s new bird boxes—for lovebirds. Cath Kidston had the suitably quaint subject line of “It's all roses and romance with our new kitchen accessories”, and while it was supposedly a “Valentine’s special”, there were no “special” offers. The best no-offer email came from Net-a-Porter’s sister (brother?) site Mr Porter. With the subject line: “Valentine’s Day covered: what to buy, wear and do”, this email won me over straight away. Going on a date? Here’s what you need to wear. Got to get her something? Choose from this range. Wondering what drink to order at the bar? Mr Porter has it all under control.
At the other end of the satisfaction scale was sporting goods website Kitbag, whose email I met with a resounding “huh?” I’m not sure what list Kitbag has me on but I am definitely not based in Asia. To receive an email in a foreign language in the UK is, as the kids say, an “epic fail”. For the landing page to also direct me to the company’s Asian site is wrong too.
But let’s not end this date on a sour note. All the retailers in the sample directed email subscribers to particular sections of their websites. Some had dedicated Valentine’s gift centres, others a particular range or seasonal theme. Among my favourites was Velvet Brown’s “Because we love you...” email. Written in a warm and friendly tone, the email promoted new stock arrival for spring and Valentine’s Day gift ideas. A nice touch (aside from the typo in the copy) was directing recipients to the “homely hearts” range on the website. Although it seemed like it was just for Valentine’s, I later realised “homely hearts” is a staple product line of heart-shaped and love-themed items for the home. What a simple but effective way to draw attention to an existing range and make it seasonal and topical.
Love is in the air, so here are five of my favourite Valentine’s subject lines of 2012:
Cath Kidston: It's all roses and romance with our new kitchen accessories
Escentual.com: Valentine’s Date Night Essentials from Escentual.com
The Linen Works: Breakfast in Bed - 15% Off our Bedlinen until Valentine's Day
Mr Porter: Valentine’s Day covered: what to buy, wear and do
River Island: Look hot this Valentine’s, gifts of love + great savings
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