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A Guide to Transactional Email

Wilson Lau

Sr. SEO Marketing Manager @ AdRoll

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In today’s highly competitive ecommerce arena, brands need to present their best face to customers at every opportunity — even if it’s not directly promotional or product-related. One area that might seem trivial in terms of marketing is the transactional email, which serves a critical function for ecommerce companies. This type of email is often underutilized though it has massive potential as a tool for engaging customers, helping to solidify brand trust, and developing positive relationships with shoppers. 

Transactional emails are separate from marketing emails, but they still play a vital part in effective marketing recipes. They help inform customers on the status of their purchases while giving companies more opportunities to provide excellent service, push repeat purchases, upsell, and instill confidence in the brand — all essential facets of building and retaining an audience and growing revenue.

In this guide, we’ll explain what a transactional email is, how it works, and how to leverage its power as an ecommerce seller.

What Is a Transactional Email?

A transactional email is typically an automated message triggered by an action, either on the part of the customer or the seller. This type of email can serve a range of purposes, but most focus on pushing the consumer to conversion or updating them on the status of their orders after they complete a purchase. The primary goal of a transactional email is to provide the customer with information after they request it or after an event triggers the message. 

How Is Transactional Email Different From Marketing Email?

Transactional emails and marketing emails are both prevalent in ecommerce, but they serve distinct purposes. The transactional email helps consumers move through the sales process and provide clear communication after they place an order. It’s part marketing and sales and part customer service. This type of email is typically sent on an individual basis using automation. When specific triggers are met, the consumer receives an email. Triggers may include form completion, items in cart, password reset, or an update from shipping partners.

Marketing emails differ from transactional emails in several ways. The general purpose of a marketing email is to promote a product or brand to encourage a user to engage and move down the conversion funnel. Usually, they are openly sales-focused and include direct mentions of products or discounts. Marketing emails also almost always send in bulk to hundreds or thousands of recipients on a brand’s email lists. Although they are part of automated campaigns, marketing automated emails are usually set to launch at a predetermined time rather than based on individual actions by consumers.

Types of Transactional Emails

Confirmation emails

The most common type of transactional email for ecommerce sellers is the order confirmation, which is sent to customers after they complete a purchase in a digital storefront. Other types of transactional emails are triggered when a consumer performs other actions that begin a relationship with the seller, like submitting a registration form. These messages usually include an itemized receipt of the products purchased or details about the registration.

Update emails

Update emails are also very common transactional messages that inform customers of changes to their orders. These include shipping notifications or updates, cancelation notices, delivery notifications, notification emails containing shipping tracking numbers, and more.

Customer request emails

This category of transactional email includes password reset messages and other email messages regarding account verification. It can also include product-related emails such as in-stock notifications.

Behavior-triggered emails

Types of messages that don’t fit into the three categories above are likely to be considered behavioral messages triggered by customer actions. Common examples include message notifications, abandoned cart reminders, promotions for products that a customer viewed, and others. These types of emails may be more promotional and intended to encourage a sale. For example, a retargeting email that showcases products related to one that a customer just had delivered would be considered a transactional email despite its marketing-focused content.

Best Practices for Transactional Emails

Transactional emails are critical to the customer’s brand experience, especially if they’ve decided to make a purchase. Providing the information a customer needs in a clear, timely manner is an essential part of maintaining customer trust in your brand. When structuring and developing creative for your transactional emails, remember these basic best practices.

Readability is key

If the purpose of a transactional email is to deliver information, it should focus on the most critical content and minimize unnecessary elements. For instance, shipping notifications don’t need robust creative — they need a clear statement that the item has shipped, an apparent tracking number, and a clear CTA to let the customer monitor their order on your website.

In general, CTAs in transactional emails should be prominent and easy to find. Buttons are often more effective at grabbing the reader’s eye than regular text links.

Provide contact information for customer service

Whatever type of transactional email you’re sending should include some way for the customer to contact the brand for service. Easily identifiable contact methods avoid consumer frustration and signal that your company is there to help.

Personalize as much as possible

A general rule of thumb in digital marketing is that the more personalized you can make a message, the more effective the message will be. Ensure that your transactional emails use the customer’s name wherever appropriate so it feels tailored to the recipient. Any marketing elements that you introduce should be relevant to each customer’s interests and behavior.

Reinforce an Engaging Customer Experience 

At first, it may seem that transactional emails don’t require much attention from marketers since they’re usually intended to provide information rather than push a conversion. However, transactional emails make up a significant portion of the messages you’ll send to your ecommerce customers, meaning that they’re a significant point of interaction with customers — in other words, opportunities to build a fruitful relationship. They can help reinforce your brand’s personality and demonstrate accountability while giving customers more chances to engage and purchase. When used effectively, transactional emails help ecommerce brands keep their customers satisfied and reinforce an engaging customer experience.

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