Winback email campaign automation & brand examples to engage customers

woman in a shop inputting into a calculator

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 in 2022.

If you are using an email platform and set up customer winback flows you will know that winback email campaigns can help you reignite your relationship with shoppers that have pulled a disappearing act.

With every highly engaged customer and brand loyalist that keeps coming back, you’ll also have a few 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.

Learn how you can automate your winback email automations or flows

What is a winback email?

A winback email is a an automated message flow you can set-up to in your email marketing platform to reach out to inactive subscribers or customers. These customers are those who previously engaged with your company (they’ve made a purchase, engaged with your emails, visited your website, etc.) but, for some reason or another, they’ve stopped doing so for a certain amount of time. 

Set up a winback email campaign using an automated campaign software

How to determine if a subscriber is inactive

What does an inactive subscriber look like? There are a few ways to identify these shoppers:

  • You can generally consider a customer inactive after six months of them not engaging with your brand, but it’s different for everyone. 
  • You can consider engagement either making a purchase, interacting with an email, visiting your website, or all of the above in the time frame you choose.
  • The timeframe for customer inactivity could be months or years depending on your brand, the products you sell, and your customers.

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

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

But if you sold coffee, it would be more reasonable for your customers to make repeat purchases more closely together since they’re probably going through coffee more frequently.

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

Learn about email automations that help scale winback campaigns

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. 

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, stopped using it altogether, or had a bad experience with your brand, a winback email can help you speak directly to some of these concerns.

But why should you put your time and energy into creating winback emails and trying to recoup past purchasers? 

  • The average open rate for winback automations is over 29%, according to Klaviyo data.
  • It costs five times as much to attract a new customer than to keep an existing one1
  • Research shows that 45% of subscribers who receive a win-back email will go on to open future emails from your brand2.

Pro tip: Winback emails can also increase customer lifetime value (LTV), or the amount of money someone spends with your brand in their lifetime.

Customer lifetime value calculation to set up healthy winback email flows

Winback email strategies to win-over your customers

Once you identify winback campaigns as an important part of your email marketing strategy, where do you start?

Consider the subject line, the number of emails in your campaign, and the content in order to see the best results.

1 | Captivate subscribers through your subject lines

A smart 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 personalize the message and suggest your brand is speaking to the customer. 

Subject line tips for high engagement in your winback series: 

  • Winback emails with subject lines similar to “It’s been a while” see open rates of 27% on average
  • Winback emails with subject lines similar to “We miss” see open rates of 24% on average
  • Winback emails with subject lines containing “Discount” see open rates of 20% on average

You also can switch up your subject lines to better reflect your brand voice. Take this subject line from 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 the reader hasn’t heard from in a while.

Best practices for email subject lines that will elevate your winback series

winback email campaign hunker

2 | Experiment with more than one email when creating your winback campaigns

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 an email series—two or more winback 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. 

Tips for deciding how many emails to include: 

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

Additionally, if your deliverability is in a stable place, consider pushing the limit on your winback series send—the top-performing 50% of Klaviyo customers have a median of 14 emails in their winback series.

When to send your emails and how many to send using email platform technology

3 | Add irresistible content to your winback copy

The goal of your winback emails is to convince an inactive subscriber to return to your website and make a purchase, which means you have to include show stopping content if you want to stop your subscriber’s scroll.

Winback email content suggestions:

  • A common way to get any customer’s attention is to offer a discount or other incentive such as free shipping. Experiment with the timing of this offer and consider including it later in your series in case your customer doesn’t need to be persuaded into purchasing.
  • Alternatively, ditch the discount and focus on content by promoting best sellers, new products, and social proof 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.

Keep in mind that while winbacks can be an incredible tool for engagement, your customer may have already moved on. And sometimes if you love something, you have to let it go. 

If your subscriber endures an entire winback series without purchasing or engaging, consider sending a final message with the option to unsubscribe in order to maintain a clean email list.

Create an email list for winback customers and segment as needed

Winback email campaign examples

What do strategic subject lines, send time, and content look like when they all come together in a winback email campaign? 

Take a peak at a few winback email examples to get a better understanding of the strategies you can use to entice your subscribers to come back to your brand.

Penguin Random House focuses on their user in their winback series

winback email campaign penguin randomhouse

Subject line: “u up?” 

Content: The rest of the email from publishing company Penguin Random House is just as fun as their cheeky subject line. The content plays on the idea of a text message 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.

Email CTA: With a call-to-action (CTA) that says “Rekindle your love of books,” it’s clear these email marketers really know their customer.

Rufflebuttts entices users to reengage with creative copy

winback email campaigns from brand rufflebutts

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

Email CTA: 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. Not to mention, including these CTAs is a great way to gather more data on shoppers’ preferences.

Tula focuses their email on exclusivity for customers

winback email newsletter from tula

Subject line: “We never do this but we miss you” 

Content: Skincare brand Tula leads with a 15% off discount in their winback email, ensuring the recipient that the offer isn’t 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.

Email CTA: This email includes multiple CTAs personalized to each product, so whether the shopper is looking for a cream or a cleanser, they’ll end up on the exact page they need to make their purchase.

Create effective Email CTAs for any type of email campaign

Girlfriend gives users an incentive

winback email draft from brand girlfriend

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

Content: Women’s activewear brand Girlfriend keeps the subject line of this winback email simple and straightforward and immediately tells subscribers that there’s an incentive to buy.
This email also 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 them. In other words, this email doesn’t seem like it’s going to 1,000 other people, even if it is.

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

Email CTA: Clicking on the discount code takes the reader directly back to Girlfriend’s website and PS at the bottom communicates that it only lasts for 30 days. This creates a sense of urgency to encourage customers to act quickly instead of waiting to buy and possibly forgetting.

Shhhowercap allows users to differentiate their product in their email copy

winback email campaign with social media from brand shhhowercap

Subject line: Fancy Seeing You Again
Content: 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 does a stellar job communicating the benefits of the product in their copy and showering readers with reasons to buy. 

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.”

Email CTA: The “Shop 20% Off” CTA makes this winback email too enticing to resist for bathers in need of a new cap.

Bring back your customers with winback flows

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 it seems like they’re about to ghost you.   

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? Want to understand how Klaviyo email marketing works?


1 “Customer Acquisition Vs.Retention Costs – Statistics And Trends”

2 “Email Win-Back Programs: Do They Work?”

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