Posted 27th January 2014 by APSIS

Inactive subscribers: Rubbish or Goldmine?

A while ago, I had a discussion with some colleagues regarding inactive subscribers.

Some of them said that those subscribers are useless - it is better to delete them, as they won’t deliver any business.

Some said that they is a great opportunity for marketers, that you shouldn’t stop picking that low-hanging fruit.

Who is right?

With the risk of being too diplomatic, I would say both! Let us have a look at the different possibilities.


To delete inactive subscribers could have a crucial relevance for your deliverability, as they could be classified as spam.

This would make sense. There are few indications as clear as this that your communication is welcome - that your recipients read your email.


Traditionally, marketers have simply deleted non-responders from their lists, but this ignores the fact that many “inactives” are actually not inactive.  The fact that a customer doesn’t open your emails does not mean they’re not engaged with your brand.

Let’s take a look why you should give them a second thought:

The Nudge effect: The British digital marketing agency Alchemy Worx recently did a survey where they studied the behaviour of inactive subscribers. The survey showed that those subscribers were still engaged: even if they didn’t open the mail when it was sent, they engaged with the brand later, or in another channel. Explanation:  a mail in your inbox is quite similar to a Tweet or a SMS. The subject line is a short and clear call to action that could carry on to a purchase. This is even more obvious on a mobile platform where the experience is much more like a social update.

The subscriber may buy – just not right now! Email has a nudge effect. Even if we don’t open an email we still register it and may still engage and transact with the brand at a later date. That’s because an unopened email creates an impression – might just be a matter of timing –you rarely buy a car or a bike every year!

Our suggestions:

Although there are many different ideas on how to deal with inactive subscribers, we don’t advice to just do nothing. A passive reaction could cause both problem with the deliverability as well as missed opportunities.

  1. Do it right from the start. It’s really hard to get rid of a deliverability problem. Use a strict subscription strategy. We always encourage a double opt in collection which eliminates spam traps that could give you a problems.
  2. Take the time and clean the bounces. It’s given, but quite often we notice that the companies don’t know which email addresses work. A healthy and clean list is a good way to prevent spam traps in the future. A professional software solution should take care of this automatically.
  3. Design specific reactivation campaigns targeting non-responders. Fit campaign content around each definition of inactive you used. Non-openers might need an aggressive subject line, non-purchasers a particularly attractive discount or coupon.

    The main mistake marketers make, is forgetting that these people are not responding to normal campaigns. Slight variations of your current approach are largely doomed to fail: you need to do something different. Consider, for example: a “Where have you been” campaign or ask the subscriber for a simple request for feedback or confirmation of interest.


You need to understand your subscribers, what works for them. There are many different ways; for some companies it might be good to work with reactive campaigns, for some, it is better to focus on the active ones. To regularly work with your addresses and testing what works, is a great way to maintain a high quality.

Good luck with your subscribers – if you need any help please contact our Professional Service team who could help you take email marketing further.

 //Anders Frankel, Founder Apsis

Free peoples email

Free People ask their inactives to confirm their subscription – that might be a good idea, but we advise just one alternative, stay or leave.

L.L. Bean

L.L Bean has another approach, they tell you what you have been missing, and ask you to update your profile. A good thought, but I doubt that the less active will spend time on updating their profile!


Sephora use a simple and really good way to reactive the subscribers.