A Smart Marketer's Guide to Re-Engaging Inactive Customers

Posted by Rita Braga Martins 7 Dec 17

Rita's expert advice on re-engaging inactive customersFor this post, Ometria’s email marketing consultant, Rita, offers advice on how ecommerce marketers today can go about (a) identifying inactive customers, and (b) re-engaging them. 

In an ideal world, everyone in your database is an engaged contact, a frequent visitor and a frequent buyer. But as time goes by, any list of contacts will become partly disengaged (and potentially inactive). 

When this happens, you’ll hopefully be acquiring new contacts who can make up for those no longer engaged—but this isn’t always the case, and gradually most retail businesses will see their email revenues go down despite a growth in their database. 

Which is why you should focus on re-engaging those who are inactive. Here are a few other reasons why:

  1. Acquiring new contacts is more expensive than reactivating old ones—so if your engagement is going down, you should tackle that issue rather than relying on increasing your database.
  2. Your revenues are naturally tied to engagement. When engagement goes down, your average CLV (Customer Lifetime Value) goes down as well. Most engaged contacts are customers, so if they stop engaging with your brand, then it means they’re probably buying less. So, when it comes to email, the overall ROI is higher when your list is engaged.
  3. Growing an inactive list impacts your email deliverability. Definitions of “spam” today aren’t as content-focused as they used to be—if ISPs see that you’re sending email after email to contacts that aren’t opening them, they could start placing your emails into spam instead of the inbox, as they now focus more on how subscribers are responding to your emails. So re-engaging inactive contacts should boost overall deliverability. (You can find out more about email deliverability here).
  4. Last but not least, you ultimately spend time building and promoting content that is not resonating with some of your contacts—especially if this content is not personalised. With the email channel particularly, as a retailer you inadvertently sometimes re-fish contacts when you send newsletters out (without knowing who opens and who doesn’t), but this approach isn’t really sustainable—you will eventually start losing engagement. 

So, how do you actually go about reconnecting with the disengaged? The first step is simple: identifying who your inactive contacts are.

Who are your inactive contacts?

Now that we’ve (hopefully!) convinced you that it’s worth focusing your efforts on winning back inactive contacts, you need to figure out exactly who they are. 

There is no set definition here—ultimately, you should identify what “inactive” means for your business using the below criteria:

🛍️   Sale cycle / buying behaviour 

What do you sell? Is it consumables, is it fashion, is it furniture? How often do you expect a customer to buy within a year? If you sell drinks, for example, you might expect them to buy every month, but if you sell beds you may expect them to buy every 3+ years. So start by analysing your order gap and define what is your expected active buying period. 

In addition to this, for new contacts that didn’t immediately buy: what is the average time they take before becoming customers? How long after they get to know your brand should they take to place their first order?

💻   Visit Activity

The next step is to consider browsing behaviour: How long has it been since they last visited your website? How often do you expect customers to visit your website in general, is it a product they need, or are they investing in an experience?

✉️   Email engagement: Frequency & Recency 

Then finally think about email behaviour. Determining whether a contact is “engaged” or not depends on your email frequency and recency. 

You need to consider how often you send emails and how recently they engaged with them; for example, if you’re a daily sender, you might consider a subscriber as inactive if they don’t open your emails after one month. If you send two to three times a week, you might need at least three months before you consider someone as inactive. 

Of course, this will be a lot easier to do if you have all the information in the same place: a single customer view is essential to determine whether a contact is truly active or inactive.

✏️  Let’s take a shoe store, for example. They might define “inactive” as:

  • Not bought within 6 months
  • Not visited in 3 months
  • Not opened an email in last 3 months 

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How to get your inactive contacts back on board 

Below are three simple steps to rebuilding customer journeys for your inactive customers: 

1) Select your inactive segments

After you’ve defined what inactive means for your brand, think about the inactive customer segments you want to target; ask yourself questions such as: "Who are the customer groups that give us the most revenue?" "Who are the frequent buyers?" 

✏️  E.g. Using the shoe store example, you could choose the below inactive segments:

  • VIPs (CLV > £250)
  • Leather collection buyers (top category)
  • End of season buyers (buy every year from Sale)
  • Recent inactive Leads (signed up 3 months ago, still haven’t placed an order)

2) Create tailored content for each segment 

Now it’s time to define the content you want to promote to each one of these inactive segments. To do this, think about what would really resonate with them—this might include product affinity, your brand tone and message and any editorial content that you could send that would make the correspondence feel more personalised than your business-as-usual communications.

3) Define the marketing channels you want to use 

Finally, think about the individual customer journey.

Which touchpoints are you going to use for each segment? Which channels, and in which order? It could be via on-site personalised content, email automation, social retargeting, in-store events, etc.

✏️ E.g. For the inactive Leather collection buyers segment above, first send them an automated win-back email, combine it with your newsletters, and add relevant content on the Leather products only. If that doesn’t work, retarget them on social media with ads themed around that category. If that doesn’t work, send them a gift via post. 

The main idea here is to again think about this from the customer journey perspective, not the channel perspective. At any point a customer can disengage, so you need to use all the information you have about them to market to them in a way they will respond. Find out which touchpoints work best for each segment, and make sure a message is delivered in the right way, across the right channels and at the right point in a customer’s journey.

And finally … monitoring engagement

After you’ve set up these winning strategies, make sure to monitor all engagement and conversion metrics closely, both positive and negative. 

This enables you to analyse which journeys are working or not, and assess the effectiveness of the above efforts to re-engage your inactive contacts.

And no matter how you end up tackling reengagement, stay focused on reinforcing the value of your brand and pushing content that is relevant to each of your customers. 


Topics: Segmentation in ecommerce marketing, single customer view, ecommerce marketing advice, re-engaging inactive customers, retention marketing

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