Bring Lapsed Customers Back Into the Fold With Win Back Email

Mike Arsenault
July 21, 2021
minute read

Timing is more critical in email marketing than many marketers realize. Throughout the customer lifecycle, there are conversion opportunities when a customer is most likely to buy.

But, these opportunities are narrow windows. And, if your emails reach customers too early or too late, those emails are less likely to generate conversions.

That’s why segmentation is important. You need to segment your email lists according to where each customer is in the customer lifecycle, so you can send the most relevant and profitable emails.

Customers who are about to stop buying from you are one of your most valuable customer segments. They’ve already made at least one purchase. And, the profit margin for repeat purchases is incredibly high.

That’s why win back emails are one of your most profitable eCommerce marketing emails.

We’re going to dig into win back emails and give a complete marketing strategy for creating winning win-back campaigns, starting with the foundational principles.

What is a win back email?

A win-back campaign is a series of emails that target customers who are just about to stop buying from you or defect to another brand. Win back emails entice these customers to return and make another purchase and possibly re-enter the customer lifecycle at an earlier stage.

There’s a key differentiation here: win-back campaigns are not the same as re-engagement campaigns. Win back emails target customers who are about to become inactive, not customers who lapsed long ago.

Re-engaging inactive subscribers requires separate re-engagement campaigns since inactive customers have already disconnected from your brand.

It’s a pretty thin line. So, how do we separate defected customers and inactive subscribers from customers who are about to defect?

How to measure purchase latency

Purchase latency is an email marketing metric that many email marketers are unaware of, and even fewer email marketers actually use.

Purchase latency measures the time between each purchase.

Purchase latency is our most valuable metric for identifying customers who are about to defect.

Here’s how to use it:

If you look at purchase latency for your entire customer base, you’ll be able to calculate the average purchase latency and identify normal purchase latencies for engaged customers.

You’ll probably notice that a majority of your customers make fairly regular purchases until a certain point. Then, the purchase latency (days between each purchase) increases.

If you plot the purchase latency data, it will probably look like this:

In this case, the purchase latency rises dramatically after the third and fourth purchases.

The goal is to send your win-back campaign at the point where purchase latency starts to rise. That’s when the customer’s buying behavior goes from normal for a heavily engaged customer to abnormal.

Abnormal buying behavior indicates that the customer is about to defect. Your win-back campaign will reengage them, and convert waning customers back into engaged customers.

A successful win-back campaign is the difference between getting four to five purchases throughout the customer lifecycle and getting seven to eight purchases from each customer.

That’s a huge increase in customer lifetime value. Win back emails are one of your most valuable eCommerce email campaigns.

And, using purchase latency, we can precisely determine when your win-back emails are most likely to convert and maximize customer retention. With that data, triggered emails and marketing automation can take care of the rest.

However, even with perfect timing, you still need to follow a solid win back email strategy when you create your win-back campaigns.

Here’s what you need to do.

Win back email strategy

There are three primary goals in your win-back email campaign strategy:

  1. Keep the customer engaged with your brand until they’re ready to purchase again.

    It’s natural for customers to occasionally wait a little longer than usual before making another purchase. The problem is that customers drift away from your brand during an extended purchase delay, which leaves room for other brands to swoop in.

    Your win-back emails keep you upfront. That way, they come back to you when they’re ready to make another purchase.

  2. Get feedback.

    If a customer is putting off making another purchase, there’s a reason. If you know the reason, you can address it, help the customer solve their problem, and pick up additional purchases.

  3. Offer an incentive to make the next purchase.

    Customers often consider and evaluate competing brands during the extra-long delay between purchases.

    Since these are repeat customers, you can afford to make an offer that’s better than most first purchase offers. This makes buying from you again a better bargain than defecting to another brand. A good incentive makes sticking with your brand a no-brainer.

Now, here’s how to make sure your win-back campaign follows your customer win-back strategy.

Win back best practices

Once you’ve calculated your average purchase latency and identified normal buying behavior, you can easily create an email trigger that will automatically send win-back emails once customers show abnormal buying behavior. That way, you never let a customer defect away from your brand.

Send a series of 2 or 3 emails

One email won’t be enough. And, you have three distinct goals to accomplish with your win-back email campaign.

So, it’s only logical to send more than one email.

An easy way to structure your win-back series is to address one win back campaign goal in each email. Your email sequence would look like this:

  1. The first email is a re-engagement email that lets the customer know that you’ve noticed they’ve been gone for a while. Include some product suggestions based on their past purchases and browsing behavior.
  2. The second re-engagement email takes a customer service approach and gathers customer feedback. Ask if they’ve experienced a problem with previous purchases, or any part of your site or eCommerce store.

    Give information for contacting customer service, and send your win-back emails from a monitored inbox. That way customers can reply to the email and get help if they need it.
  3. The third and final re-engagement email offers an incentive to make another purchase. We’ll talk about offers and discounts shortly.

With a sequence of emails, you stay engaged with your customers throughout their lapse in purchases and give them the time and attention they need to come back and make a purchase without an incentive.

Use emotionally appealing subject lines

The key here is not to make the customer feel guilty. Your goal is to make the customer feel valued.

That’s why these are some of the best win-back email subject lines:

  • Where have you been, {FIRST NAME}?
  • We miss you…
  • Can we reconnect?
  • We haven’t heard from you in a while
  • Did you forget about us?

Notice that all of these subject lines express sorrow over the customer’s absence. People like to feel valued. That’s why subject lines that show them how your life is worse without them get the best open rates.

Offer to help

We touched on this earlier. But—in addition to getting feedback—also be prepared to address different problems than you deal with when helping new customers.

These customers have had an opportunity to road test your product or service. So, they may have encountered issues that are unique to their situation.

Be prepared to give some one-on-one help to ensure that the customer is getting everything they need from your brand.

Also, document these unique problems. They may come up again with other existing customers. It’s a perfect opportunity to really dial in your customer service.

Include a powerful offer

Your win-back emails are where you pull out the big discounts. These customers are making repeat purchases. So, you have the profit margin to give a substantial incentive for making another purchase.

Plus, many customers will make more than one additional purchase. Which means that your win-back offer is often incentivizing multiple purchases.

Pro tip: Use the biggest numbers possible in your discounts. People respond most to the number itself, not the actual discount. You may have to do some math to figure which discount gives you a higher numeral.

For example, if offering a 10% discount works out to be $15 on average (or anything higher than $10), offer a $15 dollar discount rather than a 10% discount.

But, if a 10% discount is less than $10 on average, use 10% as your win back discount.

You can include a discount in all of the emails in your win-back series. Just ensure that your emails only have one central CTA. That way your emails don’t get cluttered or overwhelming.

Tell customers that your last email is the last email (and keep the promise)

In your last email, tell them that you won’t bother them anymore.

Letting customers know that you’re not going to send any more emails or offers increases conversions from your final email. It’s a classic copywriting technique that adds urgency and capitalizes on the human tendency to value things we have right now more than things we could have later.

The key to this tactic is to actually stop sending emails after you say you’ve sent your last email.

Only send another email if the customer shows interest in reengaging with your brand. For instance, it’s perfectly acceptable to send a cart abandonment email if the customer comes back and adds items to their shopping cart, then leaves.

If you keep sending emails to customers who show no interest, they’ll likely unsubscribe or mark your emails as spam, which is bad for your sender reputation and deliverability.

Additionally, saying you’re going to stop emailing, then continuing to email customers is untrustworthy behavior that creates a bad experience for the customer.

Now that you understand your win-back email campaign strategy and best practices, here are some win back email examples to show how you can apply these principles in your win-back email campaigns.

Win back email examples


The subject line for this email from MST3K is, “Hello…is there anybody out there?” It’s a clever subject line that conveys loneliness. And, it’s from the perspective of the company, implying that the company is lonely without the company.

Then, MST3K goes one step further and uses the theme of the subject line throughout the email to capitalize on that initial emotion.


Home Brew It nails it on being helpful. Yes, there’s a solid offer and an enticing CTA in this win-back email. But, look at how the majority of the copy is dedicated to customer service.


H.V.M.N. takes another customer service approach by offering to help customers stay stocked on items they regularly need to top up.


Vidlogix does an excellent job of putting their offer right up front. It’s the first thing people see when they open the email. And, Vidlogix has also supported their offer with popular products from their lineup. That way, customers get ideas for ways to use their discount.

If you follow this customer win-back email strategy, you’ll get the best conversion rates from your win-back email campaigns and greatly improve your customer lifetime value.

If you need to know when to send win-back emails, Rejoiner has created a powerful tool for evaluating your customer purchase dataset and calculating the average purchase latency (even within specific product categories). This makes it simple to identify normal purchase latencies and establish triggers for your win-back email campaigns.

So, you’ll nail the timing every time.

What to Do Now

If you follow this customer win-back email strategy, you’ll get the best conversion rates from your win-back email campaigns and greatly improve your customer lifetime value.

If you need to know when to send win-back emails, Rejoiner has created a powerful tool for evaluating your customer purchase dataset and calculating the average purchase latency (even within specific product categories). This makes it simple to identify normal purchase latencies and establish triggers for your win-back email campaigns.

So, you’ll nail the timing every time.

Want to learn more about eCommerce  email marketing?

If you need an email marketing partner that will create gorgeous win-back email campaigns and send perfectly-timed win back emails for you, schedule a free strategy session and discover how much Rejoiner will improve your email marketing ROI.

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Frequently Asked Questions

What is a win back email?

A win back email targets customers who are about to churn. There are two audiences for win back emails: 1) Subscribers who are churning. In other words, they haven't opened or clicked any emails in some time. 2) Customers who are churning. In other words, they have taken too long to repurchase compared to other customers.

How many emails should be in a win back flow?

We recommend a laddered approach which users 2-3 offer emails. Laddered means you are increasing the offer each time.

What is a good win back strategy?

First, understand the latency patterns of your customers. How long should it take a customer to return to your site and purchase? Then, trigger win back emails when customers cross a threshold of abnormal purchase latency.


Mike Arsenault

Founder & CEO

For the last 10 years, Mike has worked with brands like Moosejaw, Hydroflask, Peak Design, Triumph, Hearst & Guthy Renker to provide the strategy & technology with which they use email to drive revenue growth. He's also the Founder of Rejoiner, a SaaS marketing platform built for ecommerce businesses.

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