Like every eCommerce store owner, you probably spend a lot of time and effort building your customer list, so you want to get as much value from those customers as possible. But what happens when a customer ghosts on your store and hasn’t ordered in awhile? That customer is inactive or “lapsed,” and you should consider sending them a win-back campaign.

A win-back campaign is a marketing automation sequence that attempts to re-engage lapsed customers who show signs that they aren’t interested in your brand anymore. It’s a polite nudge to “wake them up” and get them to buy from your shop again.

What happens if customers stop buying or responding to emails? Send win-back campaigns. Click To Tweet

According to Marketing Land, more than 66 percent of email lists are inactive. If you took an honest look at your list, you’d probably notice that most of your subscribers don’t open your emails or click your links. How many customers do you have on your list that haven’t ordered from you at all recently?

The average email list loses about 25 percent of its active contacts each year. That’s painful when you consider that repeat customers are 9 times more likely to convert than new customers. They also generate five to seven times the revenue per visit as average shoppers.

Win-back campaign

When Marketing Land looked at the top 100 retailers, they found that 33 percent use win-back campaigns. Those campaigns produced a 12 percent open rate. That’s probably lower than your usual open rate, but don’t forget those are inactive subscribers. For customers who have already stopped interacting with your store, getting one out of 10 to open an email is a good start!

Furthermore, their data shows that a majority of subscribers who re-engage via a win-back email tend to continue engaging long after the campaign ends (300+ days). This means that even though win-back campaigns only address a small portion of your inactive subscribers, they work really well for those who do respond.

A majority of subscribers who re-engage via a win-back email tend to continue engaging long after the campaign ends. Click To Tweet

So if you aren’t trying to re-engage your subscribers, or if you’re purging inactive subscribers before attempting to win them back, you’re leaving money on the table.

Identifying inactive customers

Before you can send win-back emails, your first step is to identify who should receive them.
So you have to determine what you consider an inactive customer. They’re the only ones who should receive your win-back campaign.

We can’t give you a hard figure here because it’s vastly different for every company. You have to consider several things:

Before you can send win-back emails, your first step is to identify who should receive them. Click To Tweet
  • How often you typically send emails
  • How often your customers buy products online
  • The type of products you sell

For instance, if you sell a 30-day supply of coffee, it’s reasonable to expect customers to buy every month. They might buy late or skip a month, but after three months, you could consider them an inactive customer.

But if you sell a one-year membership to a training program, trying to win them back after three months doesn’t make much sense because they don’t have any reason to buy again.

Plus, if you don’t send emails often (maybe you’ve only just begun to take email marketing seriously), your customers haven’t been prompted to engage with your brand. Are customers not buying because they’ve become truly inactive, or have have they just not heard from you often enough to become active customers?

Once you decide who you consider inactive, segment them from the rest of your subscribers. Jilt’s built-in win-back campaign considers anyone who has not purchased in 90 days inactive. That’s just a starting point, though, and you can edit that rule (or add others) to suit the specific needs of your business.

Make sure your win-back campaigns follow these important best practices.

Win-back subject lines are critical

Like any type of email campaign, win-back subject lines are the gatekeepers to your emails.

But since your inactive subscribers have developed a habit of ignoring your emails, your subject lines have to be really compelling.

Your first step is to read our full guide on subject lines here: How to write an eCommerce email subject line subscribers can’t help but click.

When you write win-back subject lines, don’t be afraid to acknowledge your subscriber’s poor engagement. Use emotionally charged language. Don’t blame them, of course, but it’s fine to say things like…

  • “We miss you”
  • “Where have you been, Mike?”
  • “Hoping to reconnect”
  • “Did you forget about us?”
  • “It’s been a while…”

Don’t try to hide that emails are coming from your business, but if your emails follow a general subject line convention, it’s not a bad idea to change it up for your win-back email to try to catch customers who might have tuned your emails out.

How many win-back emails to send

Determining how many emails to send is a tricky problem. On one hand, the subscriber already won’t open your messages, so they probably won’t be offended by one more. And if they unsubscribe, well, that was probably coming anyway.

On the other hand, sending too many emails to unengaged subscribers can damage your sending reputation and affect the deliverability of your emails to other subscribers.

Generally, it’s best to include just two or three emails in your win-back campaigns (Jilt’s default campaign has two emails). If your subscribers still won’t open them, they probably don’t have any more interest in your brand. It’s a good practice to purge subscribers if they don’t engage within 30 days.

Be transparent in your final email. Tell the subscriber that if they don’t click your button that you’ll remove them from the list in 30 days. For many people, the fear of losing something is more powerful than their hope to gain something.

This final DSW email is stark and to-the-point. “Since you haven’t been checking out our emails lately, we’ll go ahead and take you off the list.”

Win-back campaign

The content of your win-back campaign

Here’s the big question: What goes into a win-back campaign?

The purpose of your campaign is to incentivize inactive subscribers to return to re-engage with your brand. Ideally, re-engagement means making a purchase, but it could also be as simple as visiting your website or opening an email.

A lot of win-back campaigns use discounts to entice customers to make another purpose. There’s no doubt coupons work. Around 82 percent of people are more likely to continue using a retailer that offers consistent deals.

This Starbucks win-back email is short and straightforward. They confess that they miss the customer, ask if the customer has trouble and how to get help, and throws them a discount. In many cases, your win-back emails don’t have to be any more complicated than this.

Win-back campaign

eBay does something very similar. This one is well timed for the holidays.

Win-back campaign

You don’t have to give discounts. Sometimes smart copywriting can be enough to re-engage people.

For instance, check out this Ballard Designs email. It starts by acknowledging that the subscriber hasn’t engaged in a while, then gives 10 easy-to-digest reasons why the subscriber should re-engage. No discount is needed because the email is enough value.

Win-back campaign

Future emails in the win-back campaign might include a discount, but you don’t need to give a discount in every email.

Many win-back campaigns include discounts/coupons, but it's not a requirement. Click To Tweet

Show your subscribers what they’re missing by not reading your emails. Remind them of the value of your relationship. Lean on your buyer personas and your customers’ jobs-to-be-done to target their unique pain points.

Teespring does this exceptionally well by reminding the subscriber the value they’ve received by using their marketplace.

Win-back campaign

Here are some kinds of content you can include other than coupons:

  • Content to solve one of their problems
  • Information to get more value out of the products they’ve purchased
  • Updates on what’s happened with your company lately
  • Updates on products or company policies
  • Prompts to change their preferences (perhaps a survey to learn their interests)

As always, stick to one call-to-action per email, but this rule is especially true for a win-back campaign. An inactive subscriber is not going to invest a lot of time into your email. If the email seems like it takes too much thought to understand and decide which direction they’ll take, they’ll just delete it. Keep things simple.

Furthermore, it’s important to optimize your win-back campaign as much as possible, so send your email at the times your customers are most likely to read it. Read more here: These are the best times to send eCommerce marketing emails.

After the win-back campaign

Naturally, it’s better to retain customers than try to win them back. Some customers, once disengaged from your brand, will never return. Win-back campaigns mitigate this problem, but retention is always best.

So your final step is to ask yourself why people disengaged from your brand in the first place. Email them with a survey or ask them through interviews what you did wrong or what you could do better. Ask questions like…

  • “Did we send too often or too little?”
  • “Are the emails relevant to your interests and purchasing habits?”
  • “How would you rate the value of our emails?”
  • “Are our subject lines unattractive?”
  • “Did you have a bad experience with our emails or website?”
  • “Is there a better email address to reach you?”

Dive deep into what you could have done to keep them active (interacting with your emails and buying products) or how to identify if they just aren’t your customer.

Free download: 11 do’s and don’ts for creating email marketing win-back campaigns.

Going forward

Win-back campaigns are important automations that belong in every eCommerce email marketing program. They help you get the most value out of your email list so you can generate as much revenue as possible. Start with these fundamentals and (as always) test and optimize.

About the Author Beka Rice

Beka is the head of product at Jilt. She works on app improvements, integration plugins, helping merchants improve recovery campaigns, and shares tutorials on reducing abandonment or improving recovery on our blog.

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