What Are Transactional Emails?

Melanie Balke
January 30, 2023

You’ll quickly find many kinds of messages when you’re sending marketing emails.

In addition to standard sales announcements and promotional emails, you’ll also send out receipts, notifications, and customer service information. Each of these emails is its own unique category, and they should have their own tone and purpose. To make things simpler, marketers have classified these messages into three major groups:

  1. Transactional emails
  2. Marketing or promotional messages
  3. Messages handled by the customer service team

As you may have guessed from the title of today’s blog post, I’ll be focusing on the first type of email. If you’ve ever wondered what a transactional email is, then this is the post for you!

Keep scrolling to learn more about these marketing emails and how your brand can use them.

The Definition of “Transactional Email”

Multiple shopping carts. The overlaid text reads, "The Basics: Transactional Emails."

Before we can really investigate transactional emails, we need to understand what they are.

While you may assume from the name that transactional emails are limited to receipts, that’s not true! A transactional email is any message triggered by user action. Examples of transactional emails include:

  • Account alerts
  • Appointment reminders
  • Lead magnet deliveries
  • Password reset emails
  • Receipts
  • Shipping notifications
  • Double opt-in

How Transactional Emails Work

SMTP or API integrations are typically used to send a transactional email.

A developer must create a system that will deliver programmed templates to particular recipients in response to certain activities. Once properly set up, your company can send account notifications or password reset emails.

Transactional Email vs. Marketing Emails

Transactional and marketing emails differ greatly from one another. Most might think the only difference between the two is the number of recipients, but other factors are at play.

A transactional email is sent to users one at a time. Plus, a transactional email contains data or information that is particular to that user. Common examples are welcome emails when customers sign up for an online store or emails about order deliveries.

Comparatively, traditional marketing emails are often sent in large batches to multiple recipients. While these mass messages may contain some form of personalization, most of them are not sent to an individual recipient. In fact, most forms of promotional content are the modern equivalent of mass mailers.

Additionally, companies are not required to get permission before sending a transactional email. In contrast, brands must always get permission before sending customers any marketing email. Unsolicited emailing is prohibited by the CAN-SPAM act and GDPR, especially to those who have not expressly requested to receive them.

Lastly, a company is not required to put an unsubscribe link in a transactional email. However, there are certain limitations to this that we’ll tackle later. On the other hand, an unsubscribe option is essential in a marketing email. 

What to Aim for When You Send Transactional Emails

"The Ideal: The Qualities All Good Transactional Emails Must Have," overlays a photo of a marble statue.

While customers aren’t going to sign up for an email list at random, marketing emails don’t have the same prestige as transactional emails. In other words, there are customer expectations that must be met whenever a transactional email is sent. Think of every transactional email triggered as a direct response to each consumer.

A welcome message is a greeting, and a password reset request is an automated customer service action. Likewise, an order confirmation is the modern equivalent of a clerk’s parting salutation.

Customers expect to receive a transactional email, and your brand must live up to those ideas. As such, when you craft a transactional email flow, you should aim for the following qualities:

  • Maximum Deliverability: Most transactional emails (i.e., password request emails and account alerts) are fairly important. Ensure your automated emails are up to code and can be delivered without issue.
  • Timeliness: All transactional emails should arrive promptly. Using marketing automation tools will improve response times.
  • Tracking: It’s not strictly necessary for some types of transactional emails, but having a way to track your campaigns can help your brand understand how customers feel and react to you. These metrics may also help you improve your brand loyalty.
  • Transparency: Make sure customers know your transactional emails are from you. Don’t send transactional emails with alternate accounts, and avoid unnecessary patter.

Is An Abandoned Cart Email a Transactional Email?

Abandoned cart emails may appear to be promotional, and they very well may be. However, they are still a type of transactional email. The reason behind this is the customer added items to their cart. Therefore, the customer has demonstrated purchasing intent by acting in this way.

But then again, always check applicable laws in your jurisdiction, like the CAN-SPAM act in the United States and Canada. Because though abandoned cart emails are personalized for a specific user, they are still seen as marketing communications in some countries.

Tips for Creating Amazing Transactional Emails

Overlapping palms. The overlaid text reads, "Tips & Tricks: Crafting Amazing Transactional Emails."

Anyone who does email marketing will tell you that email is among the best channels for establishing customer connections. But transactional emails are the most efficient!

Because many customers look forward to transactional emails, they are likely to open them. To create stunning transactional emails, follow these tips and tricks every ecommerce store should know:

1. Create a Clear Subject Line

Whether or not the receiver opens the email, the first thing they will notice is the subject line. Therefore, make the most of it by having a direct statement to entice the user to read your email. A great example is putting “Welcome” when sending a welcome email.

2. Do Not Use a “No-Reply” Address

By sending your transactional emails from a no-reply email address, you are basically announcing that you don’t want customer engagement.

3. Always Keep Transactional and Marketing Emails Separate

You don’t want your order confirmations to be tossed into the spam folder because they look like promotional emails. Try sending transactional and marketing emails from different domains or subdomains to enhance the delivery rates of each. An alternative approach involves segmenting each email separately.

4. Add Your Social Media Links

Transactional messages go beyond simply the confines of confirmation emails or password resets. Customers can follow you on your social media pages and might find something to buy in your future promotions.

5. Put an “Unsubscribe” link

Although it’s a bit unconventional, having an unsubscribe option can enhance the customer experience. Even though every transactional email is important, some customers might prefer to skip specific notifications or updates.

For instance, most customers go on a shopping spree during the holidays. You don’t want these customers to be bombarded with order and shipping confirmations. Additionally, your notification emails will be less likely to be marked as spam, and you will receive lesser spam reports.

6. Be Energetic

There’s something about buying your favorite book or shoes that excites you. That’s why putting “Your order is on its way!” or other enthusiastic phrases in a transactional email can make customers happy.

7. Send Transactional Emails ASAP

More than any other kind of customer correspondence, transactional emails require a commitment to timeliness. If you send an order confirmation, ensure the customer gets it quickly. That way, you can capitalize on the customer’s enthusiasm and pleased interaction with your company.

Delaying an order confirmation or shipping notification might harm your brand’s reputation and customers’ trust.

Keeping customers waiting for more than five minutes is inappropriate and may cause them to lose interest.

8. Personalize Transaction Emails

Whenever you create and send a transactional email, don’t make it sound like a robot wrote it. Even if it’s a simple order confirmation or account alert email, you need to make it as personal as possible. Don’t forget to include both your brand and the recipient’s names. Plus, the body of the email should also contain the customer’s name, preferably right at the start.

9. Add Useful Links

Adding links assists clients in finding what they’re looking for. The links also make a transactional email more personalized. For instance, you may give customers links to the delivery tracking website or the order update page.

10. Make Your Transactional Emails Responsive

Nowadays, most customers check their emails on their mobile phones. In response, your company should make your notification emails more responsive so they can be seen clearly on different devices.

11. Put a Plain Text Option

Aside from being responsive, a transactional email should promote accessibility. Some recipients could only have access to networks with low bandwidth. Others might utilize a screen reader, a translator, or a high-contrast theme to improve legibility.

To reach as many people as possible, send an HTML email and a plain text counterpart. But ensure your plain text version closely follows your HTML one, so there aren’t any major differences in the context and content.

12. Put Email Authentication

As expected, customers anticipate receiving any transactional email in their inboxes. What would they say if you suggested they look through their junk mail folders?

By establishing SPF, DKIM, and DMARC records, you may increase your deliverability and safeguard your brand reputation. They establish your identity, stop domain spoofing, and securely sign your emails.

Benefits of Transactional Emails

A person using a computer. "The Benefits: The Perks of Transactional Emails."

Transactional emails can considerably help your business, regardless of size.

Here are some instances where a transactional email can be beneficial:

Build Customer Loyalty and Trust

Customers feel safer when they can contact businesses that provide helpful and critical information. This information includes order status, reset password reminder, or confirmation emails.

Amplify Customer Involvement

A transactional email uses a coordinated strategy that makes customers feel valued and encourages conversation. The strategy results in better social media engagement or increased consumer survey participation.

Encourage More Sales

Although it’s different from a marketing email, marketers can deliver relevant product advertisements to their customers via a transactional email. These subtly worded adverts can greatly encourage customers to purchase more.

Promote Brand Awareness

A transactional email is a fantastic approach to draw customers’ attention to brand components (i.e., the company/brand logo). As a result, it guarantees that a customer or two will remember the company.

Preempt Any Confusion

A transactional email can prevent clients from being confused about their orders. For example, account creation emails tell a customer they’ve successfully created an account that they thought didn’t push through.

Customer Convenience

Transactional emails make customers’ lives easier. A shipping notification or a password reset email helps customers take care of their orders and protect their accounts.

What This Means for Your Business

A great transactional email can generate more sales and amplify the power of your contact lists. Moreover, thanks to automated emails, these campaigns are an easy way to keep your customers happy, boosting customer retention.

However, most small businesses don’t have time to manage everything themselves. Just maintaining a healthy backlog of bulk emails can be a chore, and adding automated email flows can take valuable time from essential processes.

To help your business thrive, it may be time to consider a partnership.

The Email Marketers is a hand-picked ensemble of email marketing experts. My team understands the ins and outs of flows and sending transactional emails. We know how to automate efficiently and ensure your customer journey ideas flow smoothly, from welcome messages to shipping notifications.

If you’re sick of juggling marketing emails with your day-to-day duties, get in touch with me. We’ll create a game plan, and I’ll show you how The Email Marketers can help you. In the meantime, don’t forget to browse the rest of my blog for more tips and tricks!