Article first published in September 2015, updated June 2019
Does your company send out emails for password resets, shipping confirmations, account renewals and the like? As a marketer, do you have control of these important messages? More likely than not, your company sends them, but you have little to no control of them. This can be a major point of frustration for digital marketers looking to build a cohesive and consistent customer experience and take advantage of all the touch-points along the way.
In this post, we’ll explain what transactional emails are and how you can get more action out of the ones you send.
What is transactional marketing?
To understand what transactional emails are, you first need to understand the marketing strategy behind it. Transactional marketing focuses on point-of-sale transactions between individual consumers. Traditionally, this strategy consists of four main elements: product, pricing, placement, and promotion.
In turn, this creates a more efficient communication system to handle a large volume of sales—rather than a focus on developing a relationship with a customer. Let’s look at a few advantages and disadvantages of transactional marketing:
- Low cost: Transactional marketing is driven by price, not brand messaging, so the costs are relatively low compared to a long-term campaign.
- Limited personalization: You don’t have to worry about building emotional relationships; you’re focused on the short-term purchase that’s run by price.
While transactional marketing does well to pinpoint a single sale, it can actually inhibit long-term sales growth due to the lack of personalization. However, when paired with the right email strategy—transactional marketing can be used as a communication port to inform your customers with product updates, subscriptions, order tracking, and more.
What are transactional emails?
Transactional emails are automated messages, triggered to send on demand by specific interactions on your website or application. Examples of transactional emails include order confirmations, shipping notifications, membership renewal notices, account status messages, and many more.
The current state of transactional emails
As marketers, we should care about transactional emails because companies send billions of transactional emails every month. Because these emails contain valuable information for customers, these messages are some of the most widely opened, read, and clicked emails around. In fact, their open rates are eight times higher than marketing emails. That’s a major opportunity for every marketer to optimize them and harness their power.
Unfortunately, the key to the transactional email kingdom has traditionally been held by IT or engineering departments who’ve commonly used the built-in email functionality of their e-commerce or CRM systems which offer little or no reporting, poor HTML support, and only basic personalization. As a result, transactional emails often feel dated, off-brand, and deliver an inconsistent customer experience from other marketing efforts.
This is why we’re used to seeing transactional emails that look like this:
In addition, the elements marketers are accustomed to leveraging in our marketing email efforts—real-time reporting, cross-sell/upsell, mobile optimization, and more—have been simply unavailable with transactional emails.
Marketers get control
Luckily, a sweet new feature from Campaign Monitor finally gives the keys to the transactional kingdom to marketers. We now have complete control over the email that our customers open and engage with most. This means that even minor tweaks to an email’s branding or messaging can be done on the fly, and without the help of a developer. More substantial changes—such as adding or changing a promotional CTA—is also just as easy as creating a traditional marketing email in Campaign Monitor.
So let’s take a look at some good examples of transactional emails, which may inspire you to grab those keys and take control of transactional emails for your business.
Order confirmation emails
Generally, order confirmation emails that you receive from in-store purchases are fairly bland looking and contain your standard purchase information, such as the order number, price, date, etc.
However, this example from Nordstrom is first-rate. It’s nicely branded, and it’s been optimized for mobile using responsive design.
Shipping confirmations might not sound like the most exciting email out there, but they’re hugely useful for your customers who are waiting for their order to arrive. This example from Fast-Growing-Trees, allows their customers to easily track their package and also includes useful instructions on what to do once their plant arrives.
Any value content you can include will go a long way in making these emails more relevant to your customers and more impactful to your bottom line.
With 191.1 million digital shoppers in the US alone, companies like Levi’s are wise to optimize every step of the online shopping experience, including when a consumer needs to return something. They use a helpful tone and outline exactly what to expect, which is reassuring. It’s also useful to have prominent phone numbers and email addresses in these types of emails. Finally, it’s definitely worth including links back to your website to shop again. If you can make a return simple, it’ll be easier for someone to buy from you again and know that, if they aren’t satisfied, they won’t have any regrets.
Resetting a password is a total drag, so don’t make the experience worse by sending a poor password reset email. This example from Netflix gets straight to the point, clearly states what the customer needs to do, and provides a phone number to call if something goes wrong. Password reset emails should remove every obstacle and make it lightning-fast for your user to get back into your website or app.
You know that data you’ve got? Here’s your chance to put it to good use. Summary emails, especially when they’re personalized and based solely on your subscriber’s data, are the perfect place to put it to good use. You’ll often see these types of emails coming from wearable tech companies like Jawbone and Fitbit or social media companies like Twitter and Linkedin.
MapMyRun is an excellent app for tracking, logging, and sharing your workouts. Their weekly summary emails are a highly engaging way for them to share this data with their subscribers. It’s an excellent idea to include social sharing buttons if you decide to send this type of email so your subscribers can share their stats with friends and social networks.
Now that you’ve had a chance to see some examples of transactional emails, we’ll quickly look at a few best practices to make sure yours deliver.
Content for transactional emails
You may have noticed that many of the examples in this post contain a mixture of transactional and promotional content. This is fine to do, but it’s important to have a good understanding of the difference between commercial and transactional content and to follow best practices to ensure that your emails are CAN-SPAM compliant.
Types of email content:
Promotes a commercial product or service, including content on a website operated for a commercial purpose
Transactional or relationship content
Facilitates an already-agreed-upon transaction or updates a customer about an ongoing transaction
Emails that primarily contain commercial content must be CAN-SPAM compliant, meaning that you must have opt-in from the subscriber and provide an unsubscribe link, among other rules. Transactional emails, on the other hand, don’t need to follow CAN-SPAM requirements. The FTC clearly outlines CAN-SPAM requirements here and has some helpful examples.
When an email contains both kinds of content, the primary purpose of the message is the deciding factor in determining which type of message it is. Follow these best practices to ensure that your transactional emails stay compliant.
- The subject line and headers must only reference transactional content
- Transactional content must appear at the top of the message
- Commercial content must appear in a secondary position within the email
- The transactional content must be the main reason for sending the email
Things to optimize in your transactional emails
A few things to consider when optimizing your transactional emails include:
- Think about your customer journey – A great transactional email can help you grow your list, generate additional revenue, capture customer feedback, and make your customers happier.
- Customer service focus – Ensure that your transactional emails are always customer-service focused and feature phone numbers, email addresses, and help pages prominently.
- Consistent branding – Would you send out an ugly, plain-text welcome email? Probably not, but it seems to be an acceptable practice for many transactional emails. You’re going to look much more professional and engaging and provide a better experience if your transactional emails are consistent and compelling, from start to finish.
- Mobile optimization – While responsive email designs are taking over the rest of the email world, transactional emails are still in the dark ages when it comes to mobile optimization. This is seriously unfortunate when you consider how many transactional emails are read on mobile devices. Campaign Monitor’s transactional email feature ensures all your messages are mobile-friendly.
- Value-added content – Why not tell your subscribers how they can get the most out of their new purchase or recommend add-ons? Your transactional emails don’t just have to contain transactional information. Just follow the guidelines outlined above.
Exemplary examples of transactional emails
Are you still looking for inspiration for your transactional emails? When done correctly, these emails not only instill loyalty with customers, but could also boost your sales line.
Outlined are a few great examples of brands that took advantage of creating impactful transactional emails.
Take this confirmation email from Uber. The company clearly displays what the transaction was: a trip from a driver that resulted in a $65.00 charge to the customer’s email, along with the entire route and driver information. Uber also allows customers to rate the service or contact support directly from the email. By receiving this email instantly after the service is complete, the customer has a clear image of the company and costs.
Source: Really Good Emails
Takeaway: Be as detailed as possible when providing customers with their purchase information. Not only does this reduce the amount of time a customer needs to find answers, but it also means your customer service team will receive fewer support questions.
While you never want to see a customer leave, it’s an inevitable action that can be easily addressed through a transactional email. Hulu used this email to confirm that the customer had deactivated their subscription, but also created a bold CTA to ask if they’d like to reactivate the account again. With this method, Hulu could possibly capitalize on re-engaging the customer.
Source: Really Good Emails
Takeaway: Utilize bold CTAs in order to grab customer’s information and entice them into action. Even if the customer has deactivated their account, an email will remind them of this action and re-engage them into a purchase.
Joybird’s shipping notification really nails the head on how transactional emails can be impactful. The company clearly displays the tracking and order information, but also includes a comprehensive branding video that demonstrates what the customer can expect with the delivery. At the end, they even offer a $200 referral coupon. Joybird’s email provides every detail a customer might need to know about an order to make their customer journey easier.
Source: Really Good Emails
Takeaway: You don’t have to lose your brand identity in transactional emails, while still providing customers with valuable information. By including the product information with a branded video, customers are more likely to read through your email instead of sending it to the trash bin.
Hopefully, these examples have inspired you to take control of the transactional emails your company sends. Try out our transactional email feature and put more action in your transactional emails today. Now that you understand how beneficial transactional emails are, learn more about how to create a full customer journey with email.