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Omnichannel commerce | Email Marketing

Win Back Those Lapsed Customers and Email Subscribers: Here's How

Failure to at least try to reactivate inactive subscribers can hurt your deliverability as well as your bottom line

Most articles about how to reactivate lapsed customers start by mentioning the tried-and-truism about how retaining customers is so much cheaper than gaining them.


Apparently this article is no different.


But when you're talking about inactive email subscribers, there's another important reason to try to reactivate them: Consistently emailing to addresses that never open your messages can hurt your overall deliverability. Some Internet service providers (ISPs) use a sender's open rate to help them determine whether to sort its emails into prospective recipients' main inbox or spam folder—or whether to not deliver the message at all.


What's more, Experian Marketing Services notes that ISPs often convert abandoned email addresses into spam traps that "collect samples of unsolicited messages and, using automated antispam systems, block delivery of messages with the same content to other email subscribers," according to its white paper "Reactivation: Reengage Inactive Customers and Subscribers."


Now that we've gotten the importance of reactivating lapsed customers and subscribers out of the way, we can go on to look at how you can use email to win back those inactive buyers. It's essentially a two-step process: First you need to identify the lapsed customers you wish to reactivate, and then you need to reach out to them with engaging content.




identify whom to contact

Before you can win back those inactive customers, you need to identify them. Your email list will include subscribers who haven't opened emails from you in months. You'll also find subscribers who have opened and maybe even clicked through emails but haven't made a purchase in months.


And what do we mean by "in months," anyway? What sort of time frame should we use to determine whether a customer is inactive: Six months? A year? Two years?


The time frame varies depending on your business and your product's purchase cycle. Most marketers and ISPs define an active customer/subscriber as one who has opened and clicked through an email within the past 12 months. If you sell seasonal or large-ticket products or services, 12 months is a solid time frame to use.


But if you have a more-frequent buyer cycle, waiting a year before reaching out to an inactive customer can be too late. Let's say you sell office supplies, and repeat customers make a purchase an average of every 102 days. You'd probably want to consider a customer lapsed if he's gone 103 days without a purchase, let alone without interacting with an email.


At this point you should separate customers who have at least opened an email from you within your determined time frame, even if they didn't make a purchase, from those who have not opened your emails. The addresses in the latter group, the truly inactive subscribers, are the ones most likely to be spam traps, bad addresses, or other types of accounts that can hurt your sender reputation among ISPs, leading to deliverability issues. The former group, on the other hand, are the ones you have the greater chance of actually being able to reactivate.




woo them and win them

There are several types of reactivation messages to try:


* "We miss you" messaging. According to email and data solutions provider Return Path, reactivation emails with "miss you" in the subject line have an average read rate of 18%, a massive lift from the overall average 1.8% read rate of reactivation emails. You could test wording along the lines of "Come back" too: Emails with such subject lines have a 12.7% read rate.


* An incentive or offer. Return Path found that win-back emails that specify the amount of the offer ("$15 off your next purchase," "One week only: Save £10") are nearly twice as effective as those that tout a percentage off. One reason could be that they stand out more: Most marketers opt for percentage-off messaging.


Other offers can be effective too: free shipping, free gift wrap, a gift with purchase. Consider different offers for different subscriber segments: It makes sense to offer a more valuable incentive to customers who had a higher spend than to those with lower average orders or lifetime value.


If you decide to offer an incentive, make it for a limited time only, and follow up the initial message with one or several timed reminders as the deadline approaches. One-and-done isn't the most effective method here.


* A cross-sell or upsell message. This works if you can tailor the email to tout additional items relevant to those that the customer bought in the past. A customer who purchased a sofa from you within the past year isn't likely to need another sofa anytime soon—but she may be in the market for new throw pillows or a coffee table.


* A reminder or replenishment message. Commodities and perishable products need to be repurchased much more frequently than sofas and dishwashers. If you know that people who buy a certain shampoo typically reorder within 10 weeks, you could set up an automated reminder to these customers slightly before or after 10 weeks.


Reminders are especially useful for seasonal or gift-oriented businesses. A customer who ordered chocolate and roses from you for Valentine's Day might not have any need of your offering until the following Valentine's Day—but you don't want to miss out on that annual purchase. Or perhaps you want to send him a reminder that people who enjoy receiving sweets and flowers at Valentine's Day may also enjoy them at Christmas.


* A repermission email. With this message, you're flat-out asking the recipient if she still wants to be on your list. Ecommerce marketing software provider Ometria says this should be "a last-ditch option," as they "tend to have pretty poor engagement rates."


With this type of email, you can ask subscribers to unsubscribe as well as to update their email preferences. Sometimes consumers want to continue receiving only certain types of messages (for special sales events, say, or annual reminders) or fewer messages (once a week versus once a day). Or maybe they don't want to receive emails but do want to receive mobile messages or direct mail.


You don't have to—and Return Path, for one, says you shouldn't—stick with just one type of win-back message. But the subject line for each should vary significantly from your usual subject lines, to grab the attention of those recipients who, after all, don't engage with your usual messages.



What now?

So you've sent your emails, and let's say 15% of recipients opened, clicked through, or made a purchase. You should stop emailing the remaining 85% of recipients—the truly inactive subscribers—right?


Wrong. Return Path found that 45% of recipients who received reactivation emails read subsequent emails. But of those 45%, 76% had not opened their win-back emails. In other words, the messages boosted engagement even among lapsed customers who didn't engage with the reactivation messages themselves. Merely reading the win-back subject lines spurred them to reengage with the brand. If that's not motivation to spend time and effort on crafting a truly persuasive subject line, nothing is.


Furthermore, according to Return Path's white paper "Email Win-Back Programs: Everyone Recommends Them, but Do They Work?" "the average length of time between when people received a win-back message and when they read a subsequent message was 57 days—almost two months." Three-quarters of those who reengaged with a brand did so within 89 days... which means 25% opened a subsequent email at least three months after receiving their reactivation messaging.


Remember how earlier we mentioned separating subscribers who hadn't even opened one of your emails within the determined time frame from those who had opened a message but didn't follow up with any other engagement? You should stop emailing subscribers in those first group before those in the latter segment. They're less likely to ultimately read another email from you, and as we said earlier, are more likely to have the sort of accounts that could hurt your deliverability. But you might want to wait even more than three months before suppressing emails to members of the second segment.


And before you stop emailing any subscribers altogether, send them a final email letting them know that this is good-bye—unless they respond by ticking the box in your message that says something along the lines of "please keep me on your list." If nothing else, it's the polite thing to do.

author: Sherry Chiger

Sherry Chiger

The editorial director of Your Commerce, Sherry Chiger is an award-winning writer and editor. She was formerly editorial director of Multichannel Merchant and Catalogue e-business magazines.


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