Chronic Email Non-Openers: Tips for Re-Engaging before it’s too Late

by Karen DiClemente, Director of Strategy Services

Many retailers are constantly challenged by the growing number of inactive email addresses on their lists. The never-ending debate around removing these email addresses is still a popular one.

Research from Econsultancy shows that an average of 61% of email customer databases are “inactive.” That means that nearly 2/3 of your subscribers haven’t opened a single message from you in months. This is a really big deal – and its impact can be felt across multiple areas of your business:
  • Lost potential revenue
  • Inefficiencies / reduced ROI
  • Cloudy metrics
  • Potential deliverability issues

With that many subscribers lying dormant, it is important for you to reactivate as many of them as you can while also focusing on your active subscribers to be sure they don’t lapse. And we’ll get to how to do this in just a minute. But there may come a time when it makes more sense to remove or suppress the ones you can’t re-engage completely.

Defining inactive
I can hear the protests raised by my last sentence – and, believe me, I understand. You worked hard and spent a lot of money to acquire those email addresses and you don’t want to give up on them. Clearly there is a chance that they might open an email someday, right? They subscribed to your list for a reason and they asked you to stay in touch.

And those are all great points. It is difficult to cut people loose after all of the time and effort you spent acquiring their email addresses, nurturing them and attempting to re-engage them. But there comes a point where it makes better business sense to remove them.

To determine the correct way to handle inactives, you must start by defining what an inactive means to your business. Many retailers define this segment as any subscriber who has not opened, browsed or purchased within a given period of time frame. This time frame usually ranges from three months to one year.

That’s a broad definition and in order to accurately define your audience, you must break it down further. While it is important to identify all of those segments so you can send targeted messages to get them to click and buy, it is equally important to handle the non-openers differently. This is the chronic non-opener segment of your list and the ones that require extra attention as they are the ones that can damage your sending reputation.

Don’t wait until it’s too late
The best way to deal with chronic non-openers is to prevent as many subscribers as you can from lapsing. The easiest thing you can do is give your audience more than one opportunity to open a message. At Listrak, we call this Multipass. You can automatically schedule an email to be sent to non-openers at predetermined times and you can even change the subject line. This shouldn’t be used on every message you send and you must carefully plan the timing of these messages to work with your overall email schedule, but it is an easy way to resend your most important messages to your audience. Sometimes, a different subject line or deployment time is all it takes to reactivate a non-opener.

Chronic non-openers, however, need more than that to re-engage them. After all, we’re talking about the people who haven’t opened in weeks or months. Here are four strategic tips to help you prevent subscribers from lapsing:

Make re-engagement a priority and reactive as early as possible
Begin re-engagement campaigns at 30 days and continue at 60, 90, 180 day intervals. These re-engagement messages don’t have to be complex to work. You can simply change the subject line and header message to make the messages relevant to different segments. For example, the email on the left can be sent to subscribers who haven’t opened a message in 30 day using the subject line “Don’t miss out – 10% off coupon inside!” while the message on the right can be sent to subscribers who haven’t opened in 90 days using the subject line “Come back and get 10% off your next order.”

By prioritizing lapsing subscribers and giving them the extra attention that they need, you will prevent a portion of your audience from falling into this segment. A 2014 study by Return Path (based on 33 brands who implemented reactivation campaigns) saw open rates increase by 13%, with 75% of the reactivated subscribers continuing to open emails after 89 days and 25% up to 300 days later.

Send personalized messages to ensure relevance
The more personal these re-engagement messages can be, the better they’ll work. Try including personal recommendations based on the products the subscribers previously browsed or purchased. Even if it has been several months since their last site visit, showing new merchandise in the same category they viewed or purchased makes these messages relevant.


You can also segment your audience and send targeted messages to each group. For example, Boden sends the message on the left to people who haven’t clicked in a while and it sends the message on the right to subscribers who haven’t opened in a while.

Automate your reactivation programs
It’s important to send an automated series of emails over a period of time with messaging showing that you miss and care about the customer’s engagement or business.

We have seen clients successful with a 4-6 message series sent over a period of 30 days to anyone who hasn’t opened an email within 6 months. During the period of time when subscribers are receiving the series, it’s important that these subscribers are excluded from your regular marketing messages so these reactivation emails stand out.

One client sends a four message series to subscribers who haven’t opened in four months, highlighting the fact that it’s been a while since they heard from them and asking if they want to unsubscribe. The message also offers a 20% discount code in order to entice shoppers back to the site.

The same message is sent out each time but the subject lines change:

Message one – triggered to be sent to subscribers who haven’t opened in four months
Subject line “Hey, remember us?”

Message two – triggered 10 days later if message one isn’t opened
Subject line “You’re missing out”

Message three – triggered 10 days later if message two isn’t opened
Subject line “Don’t open this email”

Message four – triggered 10 days later if message three isn’t opened
Subject line “Should we stay or should we go?”

When sending to chronic non-openers, it is okay to be creative with your subject lines. You’re sending to people who aren’t engaged and you have nothing to lose at this point. Stay on brand, but try not to use generic subject lines, such as “20% off today only”. Even though you are offering a great deal, the subject line probably won’t stand out in an inbox. Try playing on their emotions and use language that suggests they are about to be removed from your list.

We published a case study proving how personal product recommendations can re-engage subscribers and get them to purchase – even the chronic non-openers who haven’t engaged in over a year. You can read that case study here.

If that doesn’t work, can I try something else?
The fact that you have the email address for these chronic non-openers provides a number of additional remarketing opportunities. Email is the universal identifier and, as such, you can target these shoppers across multiple channels.

Custom Audiences
Leverage custom audiences (Facebook Custom Audiences, Google Customer Match, Twitter Audience Manager, etc.) to re-engage your inactive segments. To ensure success, you’ll want to export a list of your inactives and retarget them using similar content, especially if the reactivation emails contain key messages about promotions or offers.

Display/Paid Media
You can also try to reactivate chronic non-openers in display/paid media channels. To do this, you simply provide a list of your inactive customers to a data onboarding company, which then passes through to your DMP/DSP to execute paid media buys to target these consumers with display ads. This is all in an effort to encourage customers to return and engage with you!

In the mobile channel, marketers can engage via several methods to reactivate their users. They can do push notifications or in-app messages, or they can use in-app email to drive re-engagement.

What can I expect?
Taking the time to actively pursue your chronic non-openers is worth it. You’ll not only get a boost in opens and clicks, but sales, too. But even the ones who don’t re-engage with your brand add value. The fact that you can identify them makes it easier for you to suppress them from future sends. This not only protects your reputation but also provides a much better and more accurate view of your campaign performance. Right now, your metrics included the large portion of your list who aren’t engaged. By removing that segment and only sending to subscribers who are active, you’ll have better overall results.

Questions? Let me know in the comments section.

Naturopathica® Wins “Best Fashion or Beauty Email Message Campaign” Award for Third Consecutive Year

“Blue Friday” email campaign recognized by the Web Marketing Association in 2016 IAC Awards

NEW YORK, NY, April 14, 2016– Listrak client Naturopathica®, a 21st Century Wellness company with healing arts centers, skin care, body products and holistic health treatments, has been recognized by the Web Marketing Association (WMA) for outstanding achievement in internet advertising. This is the third consecutive year that Naturopathica has been named Winner of the “Best Fashion or Beauty Email Message Campaign” in the WMA’s Internet Advertising Competition (IAC) Awards.

The Naturopathica “Blue Friday” email campaign honored in the 2016 IAC Awards demonstrates creativity, strategy and brand integrity in digital marketing. Knowing that online shoppers anticipate Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales, Naturopathica leveraged their iconic blue branding to develop an annual pre-holiday promotion, launched one week prior to Black Friday. Using a 24-hour flash sale strategy paired with beautiful imagery, this email series dramatically out-performed historical Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales.

Subject line: It happens once in a blue moon…

Subject Line: At midnight tonight, a very special offer.

Subject Line: 30% off. 24 hours. Welcome to Blue Friday.

The email campaign was developed by the Naturopathica Digital Marketing Team, including Direct & Digital Manager Suzie Morgan, Creative Director Eon Kim and Content Editor Emily Daubert, in conjunction with Listrak, the company’s Email Service Provider. 

“The Blue Friday Campaign included three emails that focused on building anticipation and encouraging immediate action, resulting in Naturopathica’s most engaged and profitable campaign on record,” states Suzie Morgan. “To maximize awareness and impact, two teaser emails were sent (three days prior and one day prior) with a call to action to ‘check your inbox’ at midnight, when the campaign went live. We saw a conversion rate of 41%, 175% higher than average, a lift in read rates and average order value. To top it off, Blue Friday 2015 was the highest sales day in brand history. This concentrated campaign allowed us to stand apart from the holiday noise and engage our customers with a limited-time offer, preserving the integrity of our luxury product.”

Winners of this prestigious IAC Award are selected following a judging of each company’s creative using seven criteria – creativity, innovation, impact, design, copywriting, use of the medium and memorability. Other category winners included Lancôme, L’Oréal Paris, Vogue Korea and The New York Minute.

Listrak CEO Ross Kramer comments, “We are thrilled that Naturopathica has received this well-deserved honor that puts them in company with some major world-class brand marketers. We work closely with each client to design campaigns that tell their story in a unique and engaging way. For Naturopathica, this, along with exceptionally well-crafted messages and stunning photography, is clearly a winning combination.”

Naturopathica has been a client of Listrak since 2012.

For more information on the Blue Friday Email Marketing Campaign, IAC Award or Naturopathica products and services, contact Teri Akahoshi at Quinn PR:

About Naturopathica
Naturopathica is 21st Century Wellness. We empower personal transformation with our healing arts centers, remedies and rituals. Founder and product architect Barbara Close, a lifelong practitioner of natural health, creates skin care, body products, ingestibles and holistic health treatments that inspire individuals on their path to well-being. Discover Naturopathica through our Healing Arts Centers & Spas, our Spa Partners and online at

Five Email Split-Tests that Really Move the Needle

by Megan Ouellet, Director of Content Marketing. Reach out and say hi to Megan on LinkedIn.

Email split-testing is an essential part of the campaign development process as you learn what to say to get your shoppers to open, click and even convert.

Learn how to set up effective split-tests in our blog post “Be Better than the Benchmark

Day of Week

According to our 2016 retail email benchmark whitepaper, Saturday and Sunday have the lowest email volume, with 12% and 13% of total weekly volume being sent on those days, respectively.

Retail email volume has traditionally been lower on weekends for two reasons. First, in the past, the eCommerce and store channels were separate and email was used solely to drive online sales. These online shoppers were typically on their computers Monday through Friday while at work so emails were sent during those hours. And secondly, marketers sent the messages while they, too, were at work instead of on the weekend when they were at home.

This just isn’t the case anymore. Shoppers are always connected through their phones and tablets and it has been proven that emails contribute greatly to in-store sales. And with the ability to schedule a strategic series of messages, emails can be set in advance and deployed at the right time.

You should definitely try sending email on Saturday and Sunday, as the conversion rates stay about the same and there are fewer emails to compete with in the inbox:

We worked with many of our retailing clients to figure out the optimal day to send simply by split-testing messages on different days. In this example, we tested Saturday versus Sunday with the winner determined by the conversion rate. Sunday’s conversion rate was 10% higher than Saturday’s but it’s important to note that Sunday’s message also had a 27% higher ROI.

If you are currently only sending one or two emails per week, we’d recommend identifying the four days of the week that have the highest performance rates and sending those days. No time to add more messages to your workload? Try augmenting your deployment schedule with a Recurring Automated Campaign. Learn more here

Time of Day

Just as important as what day to send is what time of day to send...especially if you’re already sending four or more days of the week. Optimizing messages to be delivered at the right time of the day will greatly increase sales and revenue.

We have performed many time of day tests with our clients in order to determine if their messages perform better in the morning or afternoon. And what we found may surprise you. Different types of messages work better at different times, stressing the fact that it is so important to test all of your messages.

In this example, the winner was determined by the amount of revenue per email and the message sent at 10:00 am brought in more than twice as much revenue as the one sent at 4:00 pm. However, the 4:00 pm message had an open rate that was 3.5% higher than the morning message and a 4.4% higher read rate than the earlier message, showing that the audience was more engaged in the afternoon.

Personalized Recommendations Based on Browse and Purchase Behavior

If you are still hand curating product recommendations or recommending the same products to every shopper – such as top sellers or new markdowns – you will see a big increase in sales and revenue by personalizing those product recommendations based on each shopper’s online behavior and past purchase history.

Personalized product recommendations have been proven to increase conversion rates more than 20% - proving that the shoppers are seeing merchandise they are interested in greatly increases revenue. In this example, personalized recommendations brought in twice as much revenue per email as the email that promoted static top selling merchandise.


Everyone loves to find a great deal, but you could be giving away too much – or not enough – of a good thing. Split-testing offers will absolutely have a positive impact on your bottom line as you will determine exactly how much of a discount you need to give in order to get customers to buy and you’ll stop giving away 20% off when 5% will do.

Split tests to try: a dollar amount off versus a percentage, a free shipping threshold, a free gift versus a dollar amount off if a maximum amount is spent – get creative! The more you test, especially before the holidays, the better your margins will be.

In the example below, a client tested offering free shipping at $50 or $125. As you can see, the $50 free shipping threshold had a conversion rate nearly two times higher than the $125 threshold. But other metrics, such as click rates, were much closer. This proves that shoppers were interested in the products but the higher threshold to receive free shipping could have gone into their decisions not to purchase.


We get a lot of questions about whether or not prices should be included in emails – especially for product recommendations. The answer: it depends. The goal of the email should be to entice shoppers to go to the site – you don’t want customers making purchasing decisions in the inbox.

Split-testing prices in emails is definitely a test worth running as it will help you make better business decisions that lead directly to more conversions and higher revenue.

In the example, you can see that adding the price in the email doubled the conversion rate. But you can see that the email without the prices had approximately 40% more clicks, proving that shoppers were interested in the products being promoted.


What other email aspects have you tested that led to increased sales? Let us know in the comments!