Winback Email Campaigns Your Customers Won’t Be Able to Resist

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published on October, 11 2017. Alex McPeak has updated it to reflect the most current data and insights. 

Every brand has a variety of customers. You have your highly engaged customers who frequently interact with your content. You have your brand loyalists who buy regularly. You have your advocates who tell all their friends and family about how great your product is.

And then there are your lapsed and unengaged customers who haven’t interacted with your brand or purchased in some time. It’s nothing to be ashamed of—every business has them. 

But that doesn’t mean you have to give up on these subscribers. Winback email campaigns can help you reignite your relationship with those customers who may have ghosted you.

What is a winback email?

A winback email is a message you can use to reach out to inactive subscribers—someone who has engaged with your company in the past (they’ve made a purchase, opened emails, visited your website, etc.) but, for some reason or another, they’ve stopped doing so for a certain amount of time. 

So, what should you consider an inactive customer, how long should you wait to reach out, and when do you send a winback email?

Generally, you can use a winback for customers after six months of inactivity, but it’s different for everyone. You can consider a customer inactive if they haven’t purchased, opened an email, or visited your website in the time frame you choose.

So when should you deviate from the six-month recommendation? The timeframe for customer inactivity could be months or years depending on your brand, the products you sell, and your customers.

For example, if you only sell mattresses, you wouldn’t consider someone inactive after a year of not buying another mattress from your business since high-value, high-quality items like this are created to hold up for years—your customer probably won’t need to buy a second mattress unless they were to move. But if you sold coffee, on the other hand, it would be more reasonable for your customers to make repeat purchases more closely together since they are probably going through coffee more frequently.

If you’re just getting started with a winback series, consider experimenting with the amount of time you use as a threshold before sending a winback email to customers.

Why should you consider sending a winback email?

Simply put, if you’re not sending dedicated winback campaigns, then you could be ignoring potential customers and missing out on sales. On the other hand, if you’re sending the same emails to your entire email list without segmenting your customers based on inactivity, that could negatively affect your deliverability

Additionally, the major benefit of winback emails is that they encourage people to make repeat purchases. Think about it: If a customer makes one purchase and never makes one again, or they used to purchase frequently and stopped, there must be a reason. 

Whether they stopped buying because they replaced your product with a competitor’s, just stopped using it altogether, or they had another reason, a winback email can help you speak directly to some of these concerns.

But why should you put your time and energy into focusing on past purchasers? 

Acquiring new customers is fundamental to growing your business—not to mention, it’s always thrilling to convert a shopper into a customer. But it’s equally as important to focus on retaining your current customers and encouraging repeat purchases, too.

In fact, it costs five times as much to attract a new customer than to keep an existing one, which just goes to show that re-engaging past purchasers is essential. And it just so happens that winback email campaigns are a great way to reignite those inactive shoppers and increase their customer lifetime value (CLTV or LTV), or the amount of money they’ll spend in their lifetime with your brand.

Winback email strategies to win-over your customers

Once you identify winback campaigns as an important part of your greater email marketing strategy, where do you start in creating one that your customers will open?

When you send a win-back email, it’s important to consider the subject line, the number of emails in your campaign, and the content in order to see the best results.

Here are a few tips you can use when creating a winback email campaign. 

1 | Subject lines

Since your inactive customers haven’t engaged with your company in a long time, you might have a tougher time getting them to open an email from your brand.

For email campaigns, I suggest aiming for an open rate of 25 percent or higher, but with winback emails, you can lower this threshold a bit knowing that these subscribers are inherently less likely to engage. 

Still, a strategic winback email subject line can help you to hook your customers and inspire them to hear you out. 

Many brands have seen success with using language like “We miss you,” “Come back,” or “It’s been a while”—anything to suggest your brand is speaking to the customer with an understanding that they haven’t purchased or interacted with you in a while will help your messaging feel more targeted. 

You can switch up your subject lines to better reflect your brand voice, too. 

For example, I like this subject line from home goods brand Hunker that says, “We’ve both been so busy.” It communicates the same sentiment as the traditional winback email subject lines, but it also feels like a message from a friend they haven’t heard from in a while. 

winback email campaign hunker

Picking a subject line should never be one and done. A/B test your winback subject lines to get a better understanding of what resonates with your subscribers and, subsequently,  increase your open rates.

2 | Number of emails

One of the trickiest parts of a winback campaign is deciding how many emails to send. You could just send one winback email, but there’s a chance the recipient could miss or or decide not to open it, especially if they haven’t opened one of your emails in months.

That’s why many marketers experiment with two or three emails, using time delays in between, in order to increase the odds the recipient will open, engage, and hopefully, make their next purchase.

Because you’re sending to unengaged subscribers, you’ll want to be careful here. If you over-send, you risk hurting your sending reputation, especially if recipients unsubscribe or mark your message as spam

One option is to segment your winback campaign series based on people who have opened your email and people and who haven’t. For example, you could send out a single email to any subscribers who you consider lapsed or inactive, then trigger a second and possibly third email if they don’t open the first one.

Ultimately, to gain the most out of your winback series without risking your sending reputation, I recommend sending two or three emails. While you may still see good email open rates with subsequent emails, if you notice revenue per recipient starting to drop, that’s a good indicator that you’ve sent enough emails in this particular winback campaign.

3 | Content

The goal of your winback emails is to convince an inactive subscriber to return to your website and make a purchase, which means in addition to subject line and send time, consider the actual content of the email, too.

A common way to get any customer’s attention, though, is to offer a discount, such as a percent or dollar amount off their next purchase, or some other incentive such as free shipping or a free gift with purchase.

But while many winback email campaigns feature discounts, they don’t always have to. The copy and content alone can bring customers back to your site. For example, you could promote best sellers, new products, and social proof in order to entice customers to shop with you again.

If you do send a discount, consider experimenting with the timing of when you offer it. Maybe you don’t want to offer a discount towards a customer’s next order in the first winback email in your campaign, but offering one in the second or third email might be better than losing the customer altogether.

Winback email campaign examples

So what do strategic subject lines, send time, and content look like when they all come together in a winback email campaign? Take a look at a few winback email examples from ecommerce brands to get a better understanding of what a successful campaign looks like.

Penguin Random House

winback email campaign penguin randomhouse

This cheeky “u up?” subject line from publishing company Penguin Random House is sure to capture the attention of their subscribers, and the rest of the email is just as fun.

The content plays on the idea of a text message that’s suggested in the subject line and even looks like a conversation you’d find on your phone from a friend. 

Additionally, the email features content from the brand’s blog and highlights 21 of their books. This is a prime example of how a brand can creatively use content and copy together without using a discount in a winback email.

And with a call-to-action (CTA) that says “Rekindle your love of books,” it’s clear that this winback email is created with the reader in mind.


winback email campaigns rufflebutts

Children’s apparel brand Rufflebutts reminds customers that they have a coupon for 20 percent off their next purchase and free shipping if they decide to shop with the brand again in this winback email.

But that’s not all. The brand does an excellent job of making it easy for customers to shop with the brand again with two CTAs to shop either the boys’ or girls’ collections.

Additionally, they feature four other collections including swimwear, gifts, best sellers, and their signature rufflebutts with related imagery to show customers what they’re missing.


winback email campaign tula

Skincare brand Tula leads with a 15 percent off discount in their winback email, ensuring the recipient that the offer is not something they hand out often. 

They also pair this incentive with a few other winback strategies to make this email truly irresistible. 

By highlighting customer favorites, they make it easy for the reader to re-familiarize themselves with the brand’s products without having to immediately click through to the website. 

The fact that these are best-sellers alone is enough to create intrigue, but Tula pairs each product with a glowing review from a customer to create credibility with recipients who may be on the fence.


winback email campaign girlfriend

Women’s activewear brand Girlfriend keeps the subject line of this winback email simple and straightforward with, “We miss you. Here’s $20.” It immediately tells subscribers that there’s an incentive to buy. 

I also like how this email takes on the form of a letter written from the team. It’s addressed directly to the recipient and the messaging makes it sound like they’re talking directly to you. In other words, this email doesn’t seem like it’s going to 1,000 other people, even if it is.

Additionally, the tone is casual, conversational, and inviting. Girlfriend encourages the reader to check out new products and browse around the website but they’re aren’t too pushy. 

Plus, the PS at the bottom communicates that the discount code only lasts for 30 days, which creates a sense of urgency to encourage customers to act quickly instead of waiting to buy and possibly forgetting.


winback email campaign shhhowercap

This email from shower cap brand Shhhowercap is visually stunning, using imagery of the main product and its different patterns throughout to highlight exactly what they offer.

This brand offers a 20 percent off discount, but I also love how they communicate the benefits of the product in their copy. 

Instead of just showing the reader pictures alone, they also mention how their shower caps are differentiated from similar products by including descriptive details like “water repellent,” “breathable,” “anti-microbial,” and “machine washable.”

Lastly, they promote their Instagram account, which is a good move to encourage the recipient to follow the brand on social media. Engaging with customers on more channels helps build their following.

Ready for a win?

Trying to regain unengaged subscribers may seem daunting, but implementing a winback email campaign is a simple way to let automation do the hard work for you by reaching out to customers as soon as they hit a threshold of inactivity.   

By taking the first step to set up a winback email series, you can start to recover more customers with a targeted campaign that’s equally compelling and relevant to their experience with your brand.

When you add enticing subject lines, strategic send times, and engaging content, you can create a series that fits your unique audience, test it, and evaluate the results in order to increase open and conversion rates with customers that might have moved on from your brand otherwise.

Interested in more win-back email tips? Find out how food and beverage brands are using win-back email campaigns.

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