The Art of the Email Countdown Timer

manual alarm clock denoting email countdown timer featured

When it comes to making a decision, do you ever tend to hesitate? Of course you do! It’s natural to doubt your decisions, especially when it comes to making an online purchase.

So how do you get people to take action quickly from your ecommerce store? You need to eliminate any potential distractions that can turn your shoppers into tire-kickers. How? By creating a sense of urgency in your emails.

Now there are dozens of ways to create a sense of urgency. You can set a deadline, offer something scarce, or you can use an countdown timer.

In this post, we’ll be looking at both our data and the data of one of our top agency partners to answer the question, do countdown timers work? Then I’ll cover a few email countdown timer best practices.

What is an email countdown timer?

An email countdown timer is an animated gif (or code) that counts down to a particular event — usually a promotional event. It’s the universal symbol for not only time, but time counting down. It reminds the subscriber that the clock is ticking, raising the urgency level and compelling readers to act before the time runs out.

Each time your customers open your email, they’ll see an updated image and countdown timer, creating a sense of urgency and leaving the reader feeling the urge to buy.

The big question is — do they perform?

Does an email countdown timer work?

To determine whether or not countdown timers work, we decided to look at this from two points of views: Our view and the view from one of our partners, Essence of Email.

First, we dove into our data and looked at the overall performance of email campaigns with countdown timer vs. without a countdown timer.

Essence of Email and Frame Destination LLC ran a test to see how a countdown timer affected performance based on the type of email they were sending.

Countdown timer vs. no countdown timer

Let’s start with what we saw when we dug into our data. We analyzed 9100 email templates from 458 accounts that contained a countdown timer and compared it to those that didn’t.

We found that emails containing a countdown timer outperformed those that didn’t have one in three categories (open rate, click rate, revenue per recipient).

Countdown timer No countdown timer
Open rate 19.87% 19.50%
Click rate 2.82% 2.50%
Revenue per recipient $0.45 $0.27

There wasn’t a significant difference in open rate and click rate, but you can see that the revenue per recipient of those campaigns with a countdown timer almost DOUBLED those that didn’t.
Email sequence with special offer

Let’s move on to what one of our agency partners, Essence of Email discovered when they tested countdown timers.

They ran an experiment with their client Frame Destination LLC during Black Friday & Cyber Monday to determine how adding a countdown timer to their “Last Chance” email affected its performance.

In their first email, they simply offered a 12% discount with no countdown timer.

Email 1: Cyber Monday 12% Offer

email countdown timer

In their second email, they kept the 12% discount but added a discount timer to the end of the email.

Email 2: Last Chance Cyber Monday Offer (with email countdown)

email countdown timer (2)


Here’s how they performed:

 Email Recipients Open rate Click rate Revenue per recipient
Email 1: No countdown 12,505 13.6% 1.2% $0.10
Email 2: Countdown 15,084 18.0% 0.8% $0.81

You can see that the email with the countdown timers open rate increased by 5% and placed order amount by 880%! When looking at revenue per recipient, each email that contained a countdown timer brought in 0.81 cents, 0.69 cents higher than the first email in the sequence. That’s amazing!

Results: Does it work or not?

So does it work? Absolutely.

Although Essence of Email didn’t see a huge increase in open rate and click rates, they saw a significant increase in placed order amount and revenue per recipient. Not only that, but it performed astonishingly well when used in the last chance offer email.

Now that we know that they work, let’s run through a couple countdown timer best practices.

Email countdown timer best practices

There’s a lot more that goes into creating a great countdown timer strategy than merely throwing a timer in every promotional campaign you send out. Here are four best practices to ensure that you’re creating a sense of urgency.

Don’t overdo it

Don’t use a countdown timer in all your promotional campaigns. Using timers around specific promotions or events is much stronger than using them all the time.

Include seconds in your countdown time

Use seconds. I’m sure if you’re using a countdown timer that you’re using seconds. If not, you should be because it adds a little more urgency to your timer.

Make your messaging clear

This may sound obvious but make sure you remember to include messaging around the timer. Messaging is key to promoting the action you want to take. Create a clear message telling your reader what the countdown is counting down to.

Test, test, and test

Test! Use A/B split tests to measure the impact of the timer within your campaign. You can test many different variables around you countdown timer. You can test the message with or without a timer, placement (top or bottom), and overall design of the timer. Test everything!

If you’re not sure where to begin, here are the ABC’s of A/B testing.

In conclusion

Countdown timers prove to be an effective tactic to create a sense of urgency when running a promotion, especially in a “Last Chance’ email campaign.

If you’re not sure how to do this, check out this great post on how to add a countdown timer to your emails.


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