How to Write a Win-Back Email to Bring Your Customers Back

How to Write a Win-Back Email to Bring Your Customers Back
Ivan Kreimer Ivan Kreimer Aug 25, 2021 —  7 min read

The idea of winning back a past customer may seem strange at first, but think about it for a second. Relationships of any kind go stale, and that includes the ones consumers make with a business like yours.

That’s what win-back emails are for.

Win-back emails rekindle old, inactive relationships a customer once had with your business.

We’re talking about people who already know you and trust you; all it takes is the right approach, and you are done. Here’s what you need to know to get started 👇

What is a win-back email?

A win-back email is an email aimed at re-engaging inactive customers or subscribers that have stopped buying and/or opening their emails for some time.

Example of a win-back email campaign

What defines a win-back email campaign is its definition of an “inactive” customer or subscriber. Every company and marketer will have a different definition that depends on the amount of data available and their goals.

We can say an inactive customer is one that hasn’t purchased for many months; we can say the same for subscribers who haven’t opened an email in that period.

According to Return Path, an average of 20% of marketers send emails to inactive subscribers. What’s more, 66% of their email lists have inactive subscribers that fall into any of the following four categories:

  • Unengaged Secondary Email Accounts
  • Inactive Personal Email Accounts
  • Inactive Secondary Email Accounts
  • Idle Email Accounts

At first, win-back campaigns may look like a strategy to re-engage past customers and lead them to new purchases. You will see later on that you can easily fulfill such a goal with a win-back email campaign.

However, a much simpler reason why email marketers send win-back emails regularly is to delete subscribers whose email addresses are no longer in use (or who have simply lost interest in a business altogether).

Consequently, email marketers can save money on their email marketing service provider and lower the chances of having your emails ending up in the spam folder.

Return Path also found that 45% of recipients who received a win-back campaign read subsequent emails. From this group, 75% ended up reading a subsequent message within 89 days, and the other 25% were still opening messages up to 300 days after receiving the first win-back email.

Stats show that 45% of those who have received a win-back email continue reading subsequent emails from the company

Even if you don’t receive sales soon after launching a win-back email campaign, they can increase your engagement rates, which are already crucial aspects of running an effective email marketing campaign.

When should I create a win-back email campaign?

Win-back email campaigns are ideal for any business that, compared to their industry benchmarks or past results, faces low engagement rates, poor deliverability, and low purchase frequency.

Win-back email campaigns should be set automatically to every subscriber or customer that receives an “inactive” tag in your email marketing tool. Wait at least 90 days before tagging a subscriber as inactive.

You can extend this period for past customers, depending on your product's pricing and the average time it takes your customers to buy — that is, the purchase cycle.

Stores that sell high-ticket products and whose purchase cycles are long — say, 180 days — should tag customers as inactive after 50% to 100% of that average time — say, 365 days.

Every email marketing service provider will offer different metrics that you can leverage to map your segments with greater detail, so use other tagging attributes as you see fit. You can also connect other tools, such as your web analytics and CRM, to your email marketing tool and use the former's data for stronger tagging.

What are the elements of an effective win-back email?

Subject line

Subject lines are critical for any email campaign, but this is especially true for win-back emails. Remember that you are contacting people who haven’t opened an email in a long time. Even if you are contacting past customers, you want to get them excited again about your brand.

Your subject line needs to catch them by surprise. Try to take a different approach to whatever your brand style is; if your brand is formal, use an informal tone; if it is technical, use a down-to-earth tone, and so on.

Return Path found that emails whose subject lines used the words “miss you” and “come back” had a 13% and 12.7% read rate, respectively.

Netflix sends win-back email campaigns to inactive customers

For win-back emails aimed at getting past customers to purchase again, use the dollar sign or percentage signs — e.g., “Get $20 off” or “Get a 10% discount.” Return Path found that the former was nearly twice as successful at getting opens and clicks compared to the latter.

Win-back email subject line example by Pond5

Regardless of the subject line you use, remember to make them coherent to the content you present. A funny subject line should have an equally funny email.


The content within your email will depend greatly on your goal and the stage in your win-back campaign. Later on, you will see how to structure your campaign properly, but for now, let’s look at some examples of great email content that you can use.

First, you can let the subscriber know that your brand and products you sell have changed since the last time they opened an email or bought a product. This approach, which will focus on different aspects of the changes done, is particularly effective if the changes came from customer feedback.

Win-back email content example featuring recent changes

You can also use a clever and personal approach, acknowledging that the subscriber hasn’t opened an email or made a purchase in some time and that your company misses them.

Win-back email using a personal approach

Another effective, albeit costly, way to contact your subscribers is by giving them a discount. You should be cautious about using this approach as some customers may not need one to take action — therefore, making you lose money that you could have saved had you used another approach.

Win-back email example from Bakerista offering a discount to past customers

How to create a win-back email campaign

You know the basics of writing great subject lines and email content for your win-back campaign. Now let’s take a look at how you can create a campaign.

Step #1: Segment your email list

By now, it’s clear that your win-back campaign will target those subscribers who haven’t opened an email or made a purchase for a higher-than-average time frame. The exact segmentation strategy you implement will depend on your exact business model.

As a start, consider creating a segment of the subscribers who have shown high engagement in the past but haven’t opened your emails after 90 days or so.

The same can be said for past customers with a high AOV and high frequency.

After creating your initial segment — let’s call it the “high-quality inactive” segment — you can create more for average and below-average subscribers. Note that the results from your win-back campaigns targeting the latter segments won’t see the same results as those targeting the former.

Step #2: Create the campaign

A win-back email campaign should have a simple structure that looks something like this:

  1. A “welcome” email: You start by reminding the subscriber or customer of the past activity they have shown and reinstate how your brand has helped them in the past. You also acknowledge the fact they haven't opened your emails or purchased in a long time.

  2. Educational emails: You show your value proposition again, explaining how your products work, how they have changed, and what they can do with them.

  3. A “goodbye” email: You tell them that you will delete them from your email list if they don’t explicitly tell you they want to keep receiving your emails. This email is better suited for inactive subscribers and not past customers.

In the initial email, you want to remind your subscriber or customer about why they subscribed or purchased in the past. You can also show them the main benefits of your products or brand — for example, an environmentally friendly brand would highlight their green approach to manufacturing.

A great win-back email mentions the key reasons a customer chose that brand at some point

The following emails should remind the subscriber about your products and continue to highlight your value proposition; this can be as simple as telling them what to do, such as Polyvore does in the following email:

Polyvore use a creative approach to in their win-back email campaign

Another interesting option is to share any news they may have missed (remember that FOMO is a real problem for people).

Boden use FOMO as their key customer win-back strategy

When everything else fails, you can offer them a discount, but as we said, make sure to use this option as a last resort.

Photojojo offer a discount in their win-back email

In the last email, continue with the tone of your previous emails, but tell them that they will be unsubscribed if they don’t respond.

Crocs send a win-back email warning inactive customers they will be unsubscribed if they remain inactive

If you target past inactive customers, you can make do with an email that asks them one question: is this the right email to contact your customers? The following email illustrates this idea perfectly:

Bonobos use humor in their win-back campaign to confirm that the current email address is the correct one

The time between each email within a campaign isn’t as important as having a campaign in place. You can distance your emails anywhere between a day to seven days. You can distance the last email even more. For marketers targeting past customers, you can continue sending these emails for a much longer time.

Any email marketing platform integrated with your ecommerce platform and that offers automation capabilities will allow you to set up a win-back email campaign. Some popular tools among ecommerce businesses include:

Step #3: Analyze and improve

After you have set up your campaign, monitor your metrics.

  • For inactive subscribers, look at your open rates. Deliverability is another metric you can use, but it should be secondary.

  • For inactive customers, look at your checkout.

Wait a few days after your entire campaign has finished and, if the unsubscription isn’t automatic, delete the subscribers. It may seem odd to delete your subscribers, but remember that it will save you money.

Past customers that haven’t made another purchase could be taken to other campaigns that use different approaches to re-engage them. After all, these are people who already know your brand and could purchase from your brand in the future (unless they have said otherwise).

Wrap up

Win-back emails will likely play a crucial part in your email marketing strategy, helping you manage an efficient email list of people who want to receive your emails. You will save lots of money and headaches (have we said that email deliverability issues aren’t fun?).

If you aren’t using win-back emails, get yourself a bottle of your favorite beverage and put in the work. You will thank us for having pushed you to try them.

Ivan Kreimer is a freelance content writer for hire who creates educational content for SaaS businesses like Leadfeeder and Campaign Monitor. In his pastime, he likes to help people become freelance writers. Besides writing for smart people who read sites like Getsitecontrol, Ivan has also written in sites like Entrepreneur, MarketingProfs, TheNextWeb, and many other influential websites.

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