Email marketing

Win-back email automations: how to rekindle fading customer relationships

Emily Riedy, October 4th 2022
two women looking at a computer

If you worked really hard to reach a goal, would you just give it all up if it proved a little harder than expected? Probably not.

You should approach your customers with the same sense of resilience.

You spent time (and money) acquiring each and every customer. If someone goes quiet, letting them fade back into the ecommerce abyss is the same as giving up.

Instead, you want to fight for them. Let them know you’re still here, and that you value their business and their place in your brand community.

There’s no better way to convey that sentiment than with a win-back email.

Not convinced? According to Invesp, the probability of selling to an existing customer is between 60-70%, while the likelihood of selling to a prospect is only 5-20%.

Your move.

If you’re ready to work for your valued customers in a way that keeps them around for the long haul, keep reading to learn:

What is a win-back email?

A win-back email is an automated message (or flow, as we call them at Klaviyo) you can set up in your email marketing platform to reach out to inactive subscribers or customers.

The customers who should receive these kinds of messages are those who’ve previously engaged with your company (by making a purchase, clicking on your emails, visiting your website, etc.) but, for some reason or another, stopped doing so for a certain amount of time.

How to determine if a subscriber is inactive

There are a few ways to identify an inactive subscriber:

  • You can generally consider a customer inactive after 3-6 months of them not engaging with your business, but it’s different for everyone and every brand.
  • 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 have a long purchase cycle, a 6-month lapse might not constitute inactivity.
  • You can consider engagement as either making a purchase, interacting with an email, visiting your website, or all of the above in the timeframe you choose.

When should you deviate from the 3-6 month recommendation? Consider your customers and their buyer journey.

For example, if you sell mattresses, you wouldn’t mark someone inactive after a year of not making a purchase since your product is designed to hold up for a few years.

But if you sell coffee, which people go through more quickly, it’s more reasonable to assume your customers make repeat purchases, more closely together.

Pro tip: If you’re just getting started with a win-back series, consider experimenting with the amount of time you use as a threshold before sending your email to customers.

“Find the timeframe where 75-85% of all customers would repurchase, and tee up your win-back around this time,” suggests Jacob Sappington, head of email at Homestead Studio.

Why it’s important to start early

When in doubt about timing, remember this rule of thumb: The earlier, the better.

“Start planning your win-back email series earlier than you think you need to,” advises Cory Smith, director of lifecycle marketing at Bamboo. “If you wait too long, it makes recouping your customers that much harder. Don’t be afraid to try to coax people back earlier than seems necessary.”

Start planning your win-back email series earlier than you think you need to.

Cory Smith, director of lifecycle marketing at Bamboo

“As soon as you have a signal that a customer is leaving, start your win-back flow,” agrees Loretta Doria, head of strategy at Ragnarok. “There’s no need to wait weeks or months. The sooner you can provide some options and incentives for coming back, the better.”

Starting early “also gives you the opportunity to ask for feedback while the experience is still fresh for your customers,” Doria adds.

Why should you consider sending a win-back email?

It’s simple, really: If you don’t send dedicated automations to re-engage former customers, then you’re ignoring the opportunity to increase your brand loyalty—and you’re missing out on sales.

A word of caution: If you send win-back emails to your entire email list without segmenting your customers based on their level of inactivity, then that could have negative consequences on deliverability and your sender reputation.

The primary benefit of win-back emails is that they encourage people to make repeat purchases. Because if they don’t, there must be a reason why.

Whether they stopped buying because they replaced your product with a competitor’s (it’s a saturated market out there), stopped using it altogether, or had a bad experience, a win-back email can help you suss out what caused a customer to lapse and address some of these concerns head on.

Here are a few more reasons to invest your time and energy into creating win-back emails:

  • The average open rate for win-back automations is over 29%, according to Klaviyo data.
  • It costs 5x as much to attract a new customer than to keep an existing one.
  • Research shows that 45% of subscribers who receive a win-back email will go on to open future emails from your brand.

Pro tip: Win-back emails can also increase customer lifetime value (LTV), or the amount of money someone spends with your brand over the course of your relationship with them.

Win-back email strategies to win over your lapsed customers

You’re on board with the fact that win-back emails should be part of your marketing automation repertoire. Excellent.

Where do you go from here?

Start by brainstorming creative subject lines, determining the best number of emails for your automation, and figuring out what content to include.

1. Captivate subscribers with your subject lines

A smart win-back email subject line can hook your customers and encourage them to hear you out.

Many brands see success with language like “We miss you,” “Come back,” or “It’s been a while”—anything to personalize the message and suggest your brand is speaking directly to the recipient, as a human being rather than a potential buyer.

Here are a few stats about win-back email subject lines to help you get started:

  • Win-back emails with subject lines similar to “It’s been a while” earn average open rates of 27%.
  • Win-back emails with subject lines similar to “We miss you” earn average open rates of 24%.
  • Win-back emails with subject lines containing “Discount” earn average open rates of 20%.

You also can switch up your subject lines to better reflect your brand voice. Consider this subject line from Farmhouse Pottery that says, “Is This Goodbye?💧.” It communicates the same feeling as the more traditional win-back email subject lines, but it also feels like a message from a friend the reader hasn’t heard from in a while.

white mug with a teardrop falling from drawn on eyes

2. Experiment with more than one win-back email

One of the trickiest parts of a win-back automation is deciding how many emails to send.

You could just send one win-back email, but there’s a chance the recipient could miss it 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 an email series—two or more win-back emails with time delays in between—in order to increase the odds the recipient will open, engage, and, hopefully, click through to make their next purchase.

Because you’re sending to unengaged subscribers, it’s important to thread a balanced line. If you over-send, you risk hurting your sending reputation, especially if recipients unsubscribe or mark your message as spam.

Here are some tips for deciding how many emails to include:

  • To get the most out of your win-back series without risking your sending reputation, send 2-5 emails.
  • Segment your win-back series. For example, you could send out a single email to any subscribers you consider inactive, then trigger a second and possibly third email to those who still haven’t made a purchase after a certain amount of time.
  • If you notice revenue per recipient starting to drop after the first win-back email, that’s a good indicator that you can pull back on the number of emails you’re sending.

Pro tip: If your deliverability is in a stable place, consider pushing the limit on your win-back series send—the top-performing 50% of Klaviyo customers have a median of 14 emails in their win-back series.

3. Add content that addresses the value of your customer and reflects your brand priorities

The goal of your win-back emails is to convince an inactive subscriber to return to your website and make a purchase, which means you have to include attention-grabbing content if you want to stop your subscribers’ scroll.

A common way to get any customer’s attention is to offer a discount or other incentives, such as free shipping.

“Offer that incentive,” advises Aaron Blackmon, director of business development at Ballistic Agency. “It’s scary to do limited-time offers, but it will pay off. It’s more cost-effective to retain a customer than to acquire one. It could be a simple add-on, a discount, or a bundle, and it could mean the difference in more money spent down the line.”

Experiment with the timing of your offer and consider including it later in your series in case you don’t need to persuade your customer to purchase.

Alternatively, ditch the discount and focus on content that promotes bestsellers, new products, and user-generated content in order to entice customers to shop with you again.

Use this opportunity to address any potential issues by educating customers on how to get the most out of your products, explaining how they can get in touch with customer service, or asking for feedback.

“You can’t win everyone back with a discount code,” points out Ashley Ismailovski, CRO operations manager at SmartSites. “Often, one-time buyers have other reasons for not coming back than just the price tag.”

You can’t win everyone back with a discount code. Often, one-time buyers have other reasons for not coming back than just the price tag.

Ashley Ismailovski, CRO operations manager at SmartSites

“Making sure to include a strong value proposition for your brand or product in your win-back emails, as well as a direct line to your support team, can help resolve any uneasiness the customer may feel about making another purchase,” Ismailovski adds.

Pro tip: Even though it may feel counterintuitive, prominently feature an opt-out link for recipients. While win-back emails are an incredible tool for boosting re-engagement, your customer may have already moved on. With an opt-out link (which is a legal requirement in all marketing emails) as the main feature of your body copy, you can end your relationship on a positive note and maintain a clean email list.

Examples of win-back email automations that work

Take a peek at a few win-back email examples to better understand the strategies you can use to entice your subscribers to come back to your brand.

Here’s what strategic subject lines, send time, and content look like when they’re married in win-back email harmony.

Our Place puts the ball in the customer’s court

two pink pans sitting in the top of an email followed by text

Subject line: “This is the last email you’ll see”

Content: Our Place does something really clever. They flip the narrative of the email so it feels like the brand is saying goodbye to the email recipient. Then, they acknowledge that the person receiving the email hasn’t engaged with their messages in a while and give them the option to formally opt out.

Right below that, though, they also include a link to opt back in. So if someone thinks, “Wait—I don’t want this to be the last email I receive from Our Place,” they can easily remedy the situation. Plus, Our Place sweetens the deal with a 20% discount.

Email CTA: Someone on the Our Place email marketing team was wearing their thinking cap. The call-to-actions are simple—either subscribe or unsubscribe, say you’re interested or not. This no-fuss approach makes this email highly effective because it limits the number of choices the recipient needs to make.

There’s a second CTA at the very bottom of the email that encourages recipients to reach out to the brand with any questions. Sandwiched in between those CTAs is a block that highlights why someone should shop Our Place’s products, with mentions of their free-shipping policy, their rewards program, and alternative pay options.

Rufflebutts entices users to re-engage with creative email copy

babies with ruffly headbands or underwear

Subject line: “Oh Joy”

Content: Rufflebutts reminds customers that they have a coupon for 20% off their next purchase and free shipping if they decide to shop with the brand again.

Additionally, to show customers what they’re missing, the email features 4 collections, including swimwear, gifts, bestsellers, and the brand’s signature rufflebutts with related imagery.

Email CTA: Rufflebutts does an excellent job making it easy for customers to shop with them again, with CTAs to shop either the boys’ or girls’ collections. Including both CTAs is a great way to gather more data on shoppers’ preferences.

Printfresh focuses on exclusivity for customers

colorful pajamas followed by text with a 15% discount
customer review for printfresh’s pajamas that talks about how beautiful the prints are

Subject line: “Let’s get reacquainted”

Content: Sleepwear brand Printfresh leads with a 15% off discount in their win-back email, explaining to the recipient that the offer is a “gift”—something they don’t hand out often. 

They feature a quote from Allure magazine that mentions how beautiful their pajamas are and also include images of customer favorites in the middle of the email, making it easy for the reader to re-familiarize themselves with the brand’s products without having to click through to the website. 

The fact that Printfresh highlights bestsellers is enough to create intrigue, but the brand takes it a step further by including a glowing review from a customer. This creates credibility with recipients who may be on the fence.

Email CTA: This email includes a CTA that’s situated above the customer review, making it easy for customers who are ready to use that discount code to do so.

Girlfriend Collective keeps it casual while giving users an incentive

plain text email with a discount code over a mauve background

Subject line: “We miss you. Here’s $20.”

Content: Women’s activewear brand Girlfriend Collective keeps the subject line of their win-back email simple and straightforward and immediately tells subscribers that there’s an incentive to buy.

This email also takes the form of a letter written from the team. It’s addressed directly to the recipient and the copy is informal, as if the brand is speaking directly to the customer. In other words, this email doesn’t feel like it’s going to 1K other people, even if it is.

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

Email CTA: Clicking on the discount code takes email subscribers directly back to Girlfriend’s website and a P.S. at the bottom communicates that it only lasts for 30 days. This creates a sense of urgency and a fear of missing out, and it encourages customers to act quickly—lest they wait to buy and miss out on the offer.

Shhhowercap differentiates their product from competitors

woman wearing a shower cap followed by blocks of product images

Subject line: “Fancy Seeing You Again”

Content: This re-engagement email from Shhhowercap is visually stunning, using imagery of the main product and its different patterns throughout to highlight exactly what the brand sells.

This brand does a stellar job of communicating the benefits of the product in their copy and showering readers with reasons to buy.

Instead of just including product pictures, Shhhowercap also mentions how their shower caps are differentiated from similar products by including descriptive details like “water repellent,” “breathable,” “anti-microbial,” and “machine washable.”

Email CTA: The “Shop 20% Off” CTA makes this customer win-back email too enticing to resist.

Recoup lost sales with win-back flows

It may be daunting to reach out to customers as soon as it seems like they’re about to ghost you. But implementing a win-back email automation is a simple way to let your marketing platform take care of the hard part.

As Andrew Rosensweig, strategist at Electric Eye says, “It’s important to at least start somewhere.”

It’s important to at least start somewhere.

Andrew Rosensweig, strategist at Electric Eye

By taking the first step to set up a win-back strategy, you can reel more customers back in with highly customized messages that are compelling and relevant to their experiences with your brand.

“A lot of brands already know they are leaving money on the table by not fully addressing the customer lifecycle and lack solutions for efficient repeat purchasing,” Rosensweig explains. “Get data, learn, and iterate to improve the tailored messaging that will effectively cultivate repeat customers.”

When you bolster your win-back strategy with enticing subject lines, strategic send times, and engaging content, you can create a series that fits—and serves—your unique audience. From there, test and evaluate the results in order to increase open and conversion rates—and ultimately regain the customers you might’ve otherwise lost for good.

What other messages should you incorporate into the customer lifecycle? Explore automations to find out.

Send automations that drive revenue.
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Emily Riedy
Emily Riedy
Content strategist
Emily Riedy is a content strategist at Klaviyo. She creates and optimizes content to help online businesses own their growth. Before joining Klaviyo, Emily worked at a digital marketing agency where she created content to help small business owners and marketers grow their online advertising presence. When she’s not writing, Emily enjoys making tacos, running, and sipping on orange wine.