How can you win customers back online? 

Here's an intro looking at some of the tools you can use, as well as some advice on knowing which customers to target.

Before we start, is the team in order?

Who is in charge of media spend? Do they sit in the same room as your CRM guy? Is there a merchandiser and an analyst in there, too?

Without interaction between these team members, acquistion, retention and reactivation are made a whole lot harder. That's because you're not just pleading with customers to come back. It's a job of optimising site architecture, visibility and conversion rate.

And who is it you want to win back?

The importance of a customer can be determined through recency, frequency and monetary value (RFM).

You need to decide exactly who to win back and how much effort (money) to spend on doing so.

Read this article on finding your best customers for more information. In a nutshell, creating your own RFM matrix will allow you to identify criteria for lapsed heroes, those customers you might spend some money to re-engage.

rfm matrix

Using email marketing

The automated (or not) win-back email campaign is an established technique. Success though can be hard to unpick in aggregated data.

See this study from last year by Return Path - although only 24% of win-back emails were engaged with, 45% of recipients did read subsequenting marketing email.

Of course, a lot will depend on brand, product, targeting, time and more. Here are some options with a win-back email: 

  • Give a prominent 'unsubscribe' button. Although there's always a chance reactivation can happen after 20 years lost at sea, getting rid of genuine lapses from your database will help with analysis. If you're afraid of throwing business away, don't do this with lapsed heroes, just with low-value lapses.
  • Provide an incentive such as an offer. Test this to see what works best - money-off often proves more popular than a percentage discount. Should the offer be generic or for a matched product similar to a past purchase?
  • Provide an exclusive. Hero customers (lapsed or otherwise) should be privvy to new ranges, for example, before everyone else. Reminding lapsed heroes they are part of an exclusive club can get them browsing again, the first step to sales re-activation.
  • Match email content to past purchases. Try this at a product, brand or category level.
  • In the shorter term, try automated cart-abandonment emails (like Boots does, below). Customers may abandon because of connection issues, reservations about shipping costs or even good old change of heart. Send them a link to their full basket within 24 hours.

For more on automated email, see 20 automated emails your customers won't delete.

basket abandon email

Winning back with search

Well, the very same email segmentation can now be applied to PPC with Google's Customer Match rolling out as I write, allowing PPC ads to target signed-in users on Google that exist on your email list.

Here are some things to try or bear in mind:

  • Targeting lapsed heroes only, you might try broadening keyphrases and paying a little more for more competitive terms when creating a campaign for these email addresses.
  • Ad creative can be designed to complement or match the win-back email copy, in a more concerted effort to target these customers.
  • Much like your win-back emails, you can target shopping events or sales anniversaries. If a hero last purchased on Black Friday, target them with a PPC ad on the same day next year. This technique could allow you to capitalise on family birthdays, for example.
  • Remember, users can control the ads they see, by opting out of personalized ads or by blocking ads from individual advertisers through Google ad settings. This means you have to be careful not to use ad copy that seems overly personal.

For the shorter term, remarketing lists for search ads (RLSAs) allow similar flexibility with PPC ads but these ads are based on a cookie pool of visitors to your site.

That means your time limit is 30 days to target past visitors to your site within the SERPs.

You'll also have to make sure your website has a tag, usually in the footer, to enable you to set up rule-based lists for visitors to specific pages and also purchasers (if that's a group you want to target, perhaps for a more frequently bought item).

RLSAs can be useful for splitting out visitors by their referral source. Maybe you want to use PPC to target users who have visited your site from one of your email newsletters but not purchased.

Remarketing can be a difficult tactic to measure the success of, something we'll touch on further in...

Good old display retargeting

Most laymen are familiar with being retargeted with display ads. This is another short term tactic to recapture visitors.

A user looks at some shoes on your website, perhaps decides to buy them in store (or not at all), heads to another site on the internet and sees an ad for the same shoes.

This again is based on cookie pools so limited to 30 days. It's a proven channel but a word of caution is to be uttered about measurement.

View-through conversions from retargeting display ads are high - this is when a user has seen an ad and then later converts on your site (but hasn't clicked through from an ad). Some companies may report on conversion with a view-through window of the full 30 days, which is inevitably high.

Safer to set this view-through window to 24 hours to judge the efficacy of display retargeting.

Better yet, report on click-through conversions, users who have actually clicked on an ad and then bought.

And if you want to really make sure you have the best view of how the channel is working, make sure you have a group of your abandoning customers who aren't remarketed to.

This way you can compare the two groups of customers and work out if remarketing with display is cannibalising sales.

Display retargeting by Waitrose. See the Econsultancy Display Retargeting Buyers Guide.

display retargeting by waitrose display retargeting by waitrose

Social advertising

Facebook Custom Audiences and Twitter Tailored Audiences both allow you to target email lists, phone numbers, previous site visitors or app users, giving a great deal of flexibility.

Because the targeting of site visitors is based on hashed customer data and not cookies, both of these ad options allow you to target your former customers (and lookalike audiences) across devices.

It's for this reason that Facebook has been so successful in selling mobile advertising and Google is catching on with its new product, Customer Match. Here are seven dos and don'ts of Custom Audiences.

Try keeping your customers in the first place

With tongue in cheek, I suggest reading some articles on customer retention. Here are 21 ways online retailers can improve customer retention rates and 10 loyalty building strategies for customer retention.

But remember they might have bought offline

I hope this was helpful if you needed a 101 on the tools available to win back customers online. One thing to remember is that uniting data across sales channels is necessary to truly know what your customer is doing.

They may have lapsed online but are buying more than ever in store. Aligning this data can be difficult and is one of the uses of loyalty card schemes.

If you can't tell whether a customer has purchased offline, it pays to be careful with what you offer them online and how you offer it.

Now I'm off to write a post about tying up online and offline data...

Ben Davis

Published 15 October, 2015 by Ben Davis @ Econsultancy

Ben Davis is Editor at Econsultancy. He lives in Manchester, England. You can contact him at ben.davis@econsultancy.com, follow at @herrhuld or connect via LinkedIn.

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Comments (3)

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Matt Lovell, Head of Customer Insight at Jack Wills

Nice comprehensive list Ben. For me the key here is moulding all this together so you can understand how the combination of many of the above techniques can actually help you reactivate customers.

The RFM model is an interesting one to me though as while it works in environments where there is brand loyalty / regular purchasing, in other markets this needs to be adapted to focus less on historic sales and more on customer behaviour. In the low cost short and medium haul airline world, whilst people may go on holiday 2/3+ times a year, unless you cater for every destination they consider, you aren't likely to get a look in for each break (especially when you consider beyond this that you also need to offer what they want from the right departure airport on the right date and even on occasion at the right time in order to win that customer's business) so understanding when they are in market for a holiday and what they have looked for in the past can be crucial in terms of knowing when and how to target these customers.

The retargeting side of things is also interesting as we've had some real success targeting customers using the same providers only months later based on the data we had when the originally visited the site suggesting the 30 day window isn't quite as definitive as people might suggest.

about 2 years ago

Ben Davis

Ben Davis, Editor at EconsultancyStaff

Thanks Matt. Some nice insight from your sector.

about 2 years ago

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Matt Quinn, Cso at Sauce

This is going to sound so naive, but I had never thought of creating an RFM matrix for your lost customers. Such an obviously productive idea.

Thanks for this Ben

about 2 years ago

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