Transactional emails

Estimated reading time: 23 minutes

Transactional emails, which include messages like receipts and shipping notifications, aren’t technically marketing emails.

Even though every interaction with a customer is marketing on a macro level, transactional emails are business communications driven by customer action. They’re legally considered to be a fundamental and necessary part of operating your business, which makes them differ from other marketing emails in one major way: They don’t require an opt-in. 

The trade off, however, is that they generally can’t be used for marketing purposes. Or, at least, overt marketing purposes. 

Different jurisdictions have different rules about how much promotional material you can induce in a transactional email. Check out our legality lesson and, as always, consult with your attorney.

However, they’re quite valuable emails to your business because, statistically, they get a tremendous number of eyeballs. One study found that transactional emails have an average open rate of 45 percent, more than double that of non-transactional emails. Additionally, they have a click-through rate that’s three times higher. People want to see their receipts, their shipping info, and updates on their orders. They request things like password changes or account log-in help (which, although not literally about transactions, fall under the legal umbrella of transactional emails since they serve a necessary business purpose). That’s why transactional emails do so well.

In this lesson, we’ll look at the different types of transactional emails eCommerce stores should be sending and ways you can squeeze at least a little extra marketing juice out of them.

General transactional email tips

We’ll cover lots of different types of transactional emails in this lesson, but some advice holds true across all of them.

Keep it straightforward and informative

The overarching purpose of a transactional email is to deliver some crucial information to a customer. Transactional emails are meant to be purpose-driven and reassuring—that’s far and away the main goal. Working marketing into those emails is a distant second.

That means transactional emails are not a situation to get too clever with your subject line (or preview text or from field)—your subject line should state exactly what the email is about. 

Good transactional subject line

Bad transactional subject line

Receipt: We got your shoe order #21513

We're solemates! You just bought shoes

You should also put the key information at the top of the email. If it’s a shipping confirmation email, for example, lead with the tracking number and delivery date. If you spotlight the important info at the top, your customers will hopefully be more receptive to a little bit of marketing-oriented material at the bottom of the email.

Include a physical address

Under the U.S. CAN-SPAM act, commercial emails need to include a physical address, but transactional emails do not. (Other jurisdictions generally don’t offer that exception.) Regardless of the legal requirements, it’s always good to have a physical address for your business in your email footer, along with other contact information. That will add credibility, and also reinforce that you’re forming a trusting relationship with the new subscriber.

How much marketing can you work in?

You can check our lesson on legality for more on this topic, but let’s quickly go over the U.S. regulations on marketing in transactional emails—and then the stricter regulations in other jurisdictions.

Under the U.S. CAN-SPAM Act, the difference between a commercial and transactional email—and, therefore, an email requiring an opt-in to receive marketing emails versus and email that doesn’t—is the “primary purpose of the message.”

What is the primary purpose? Here are the exact words from the Act:

If a recipient reasonably interpreting the subject line would likely conclude that the message contains an advertisement or promotion for a commercial product or service or if the message’s transactional or relationship content does not appear mainly at the beginning of the message, the primary purpose of the message is commercial.

Notice there is some wiggle room built in there. It doesn’t say the emails must be “exclusively” or “completely” focused on the transaction. That just must be the primary purpose of the email, and the content featured “mainly at the beginning.”

The U.S. Federal Trade Commission also gives an example of an email that would most likely fall under the transactional umbrella—even though it has a bit of marketing content.

The U.S. FTC's example of a transactional email.
Via: FTC.gov.

Based on the above parameters, if you have a straightforward subject line, lead with the transactional content, and make sure the marketing is only a small fraction of your email (like a few related and/or top products at the bottom of the email)—then you’re probably in the clear. We say “probably” because every case is different and the safest bet is to consult with an attorney as you put together your transactional email templates.

You’ll have even less wiggle room in places like EU (under GDPR), Canada, and Australia. They all have much stricter policies toward including marketing content in transactional emails and, by in large, eliminate a lot of the wiggle room. As we discuss including things like offers, coupons, and upsells and cross-sells in transactional emails in this section, we’ll be going off the U.S. definition. The blanket rule for countries with stricter rules is: don’t include overt commercial content in your transactional emails.

Always err on the side of caution, especially when your emails go to customers outside the U.S.

Now… all that being said, there’s more to the concept of “marketing” than just putting a few offers at the end of an email. Your transactional emails may be detail-oriented business communications, but they’re all still customer touchpoints—and, based on the stats, they’re emails your customers are quite likely to open.

So make sure your transactional emails still feel like a part of your brand and reinforce who you are and what you’re about. You can (and should!) include your logo in a transactional email. You can use your color scheme. Even the words you pick reinforce your brand. For example, if you sell outdoor gear, instead of the headline on a shipping confirmation saying “Your order has shipped,” it could say, “Your adventure is on the way.” (Don’t use the latter as your subject line, though—transactional email subject lines need to be straightforward.)

A transactional email that uses brand-appropriate language.

Post-subscription and account creation emails

Account/subscription double opt-ins

If you use a double opt-in process—where a person gets an email double checking they really want to create an account or subscribe to your list and needs to click to confirm—those confirmation emails are transactional.

Our position at Jilt is eCommerce stores should use single opt-in, not double. Read why we believe double opt-in is overkill here.

Here’s a subscription confirmation I received from a brand. It’s not in good shape. They didn’t change the title from “Generic Newsletter.” I has a bunch of fields for information I didn’t provide (and lists “Last name” twice). It features no branding, no logo, no color scheme. It doesn’t inspire any confidence about the future emails I’ll receive. And as much as I appreciate making it easy to unsubscribe from a list—should that really be the only call-to-action button in the first email sent to a brand new subscriber? It’s a good reminder to test your transactional emails yourself to make sure you’re happy with every email your customers might receive.

A generic subscription confirmation.

Can you add marketing?

Opt-in emails should be about as basic as any emails ever get—their purpose is to get the confirmation. You should have a single call-to-action button in these emails (the button a person clicks to opt in) and, really, nothing else. Once they’re a subscriber, you’ll have plenty of opportunities to sell to them. (As soon as on the subscription confirmation page you send them to on your site, in fact.)

They should be simple, generally just a sentence or two and a button. After all, you’re already going to be losing between 20 to 40 percent of those people who don’t follow through on the second opt-in; might as well not start aggressively and prematurely marketing now and risk losing even more.

Make sure you do show off your brand in the email, though—even if it’s just your logo. 

While it’s rare, you will occasionally see more marketing content in a double opt-in email. Here’s an example from Native Shoes. It uses their color scheme and branding—but it’s also straightforward and focused on the business at hand. The discount offer is the extra incentive to get the person to confirm their subscription. And there is a tiny bit of commercial content here too: The “Adults” and “Kids” links. Do note, though, that this email contains an unsubscribe link—with that, Native is tacitly recognizing this is arguably more a promotional email than a transactional one.

A good subscription confirmation example.

Password resets and account changes

Emails like password resets, password requests, password change confirmations, address change confirmations, and account information updates are all focused on one specific, often very dry, task. However, they serve an important security function: making sure the customer can get into their account and/or no one is doing anything unauthorized to that account. 

Can you add marketing?

While branding elements, like your logo and colors, are totally acceptable in these emails, it’s tough to sell with them. Since they tend to be very short, it’ll be difficult to maintain the ratio of keeping them primarily transactional if you start including products or marketing copy.

That’s not to say brands don’t do anything marketing-related in these types of emails. Often you’ll see a brand include links to their social media at the bottom. That’s an interesting technique because those social media logos stand out more in what are generally text-heavy, business-oriented emails than they do in splashier broadcasts or automations that feature lots of pictures and colors—so it might even help you get a few extra followers.

Colorful social media logos often stand out better in text-heavy, business-oriented emails than in splashier marketing emails.

Here’s a password reset email from Snapfish. While it’s clearly focused on resetting the password—that’s a large, eye-catching call-to-action button that’s impossible to miss—the email also features their logo, links to sections on their website, links to download the Snapfish apps, and social media icons. There’s also some light marketing copy around their commitments security, shipping, and customer satisfaction. Notice what this email doesn’t have: An option to unsubscribe. That’s because it’s a transactional email so it doesn’t require one.

A password reset email.

Snapfish isn’t overtly selling anything in this email, but they do manage to cram an impressive amount of marketing into it.

Post-purchase emails

Order confirmations and receipts

In our lesson on automations, we talked about sending thank you emails and/or a welcome series after a purchase. Those are different than an order confirmation or receipt. They are marketing-heavy emails focused on onboarding a customer, getting them excited, and growing the relationship, while an order confirmation or receipt is just about delivering the straightforward details of the order.

It needs to include information about things like the products the customer ordered (preferably with pictures of those products), quantities and prices, the order number, a billing summary, and the shipping address and method. It’s also helpful to include customer service contact info.

But while the main purpose of a receipt is to create a record of the order, it’s a good chance to get a customer to take some other action. The moment they receive their order confirmation is when their excitement about the purchase peaks. One study (albeit by a receipt company) found that every receipt led to an average of 25 cents of extra revenue. Our numbers at Jilt are even higher: each receipt was worth 69 cents of extra revenue. And while all transactional email open rates are high, receipts have some of the highest—nearly three quarters of customers will open their receipt.

According to Jilt’s data, each order receipt brings in an average of 69 cents of additional revenue.

Can you add marketing?

Yes, it’s pretty common for brands to add a few upsells or cross-sells at the bottom of the receipt. These are effective because customers are excited about the purchase they just made, and can often be persuaded to purchase complimentary or add-on products.

Cross-selling in an order shipping notification.

In lieu of directly selling, you can capitalize on your customer’s excitement by asking them to do you a favor. That could be asking for feedback, social media shares, to follow you on social media, or to opt-in to your marketing emails if they didn’t opt-in while completing the purchase.

It’s also an opportunity to throw in a mention of your referral program to see if you can get them to recommend you or your products to their friends. And if you have a loyalty, VIP, or rewards points program, it’s a chance to get them to register. Check out this email receipt from Sweetgreen which uses a progress bar to show a new customer how much closer they’d be toward free food if they joined the rewards program.

Even if you don’t want to do any other selling or make any other ask in your order confirmation or receipt, it’s still a chance to reiterate the benefits of the customer’s purchase or your brand mission. That educates the customer, builds on their excitement, and can engender good feelings toward you and your brand—which will ultimately pay off with increased customer loyalty.

Shipping confirmation and tracking info

Shipping confirmation emails, which often include shipment tracking information, are another time to get customers excited about their purchases. 

Make sure to provide a direct link to the tracking information, whether on your site or directly through UPS, FedEx, or another carrier. (And for times when you’ve created a number but the package hasn’t actually shipped out yet, it’s a good idea to set expectations and mention that tracking information often won’t be available for 24 hours—or however long it takes in your system. It’s always disappointing to immediately click through and find the tracking number isn’t in the system yet.)

If possible, give an estimated delivery delivery time in the email. That will help build more anticipation, but also set expectations so your customer knows whether to expect their order tomorrow or in two weeks.

Can you add marketing?

The shipping confirmation is another high-excitement moment, so much like with receipts, it can be a good chance for cross-selling—or for asking a favor like referring to a friend or following your brand on social media.

Here’s a shipping confirmation email that successfully mixes transaction details and selling. It puts a clear emphasis on the vital customer information up top—which allows them to add  some cross-sells and links at the bottom without annoying the customer or running afoul of regulations. The email begins with a friendly and on-brand headline to build excitement and the blue button to track the order definitely stands out. That’s followed by an option for customer service, which is then followed by the nuts and bolts of the order (estimated delivery, delivery address, product purchased—it’s a nice touch that they show me what I ordered, which further helps build excitement). Only after getting all that vital info to me first, do  they recommend related products and link to the major sections of their store and social media.

A shipping confirmation that checks all the boxes.

Order delivered

The “your order has been delivered” email is another chance to send an email—one that might make someone jump up and run to their door or mailbox. Match their excitement with your language; instead of “Your order was dropped off,” you could say, “It’s here!”

Can you add marketing?

You can try a cross-sell in your order delivered email, although it might come off as a little too pushy—they’ve only had your product in their hand for one second and you’re already trying to sell them something else. 

According to Jilt’s data, order delivery confirmation emails have lower revenue-per-email than order receipts, shipping notifications, and even order cancelation emails.

The order delivered email is a better showcase for your customer service. You can use the email to check if the customer is satisfied, offer different support options, and provide info for fixing or replacing damaged products. It’s also a good opportunity to provide helpful resources for the customer. What better time to link to a how-to article or share an eBook about getting the most from your product than when your customer has just received it?

In this email from Google, after they dispense with the full recap of the order information, they offer a link to a set up guide about getting the most from their product. 

A shipment arrival email.

Order cancelation

Unfortunately, some customers are going to cancel orders, or you may have to cancel orders yourself because you run out of stock or other issues pop up. A good order cancelation email might improve your chances of keeping the person as a future customer.

To that end, as disappointing as an order cancelation is for you (or for your customer in cases when you initiated the cancelation), your goal with the email is to stay positive and helpful. The customer won’t be receiving this one specific order anymore, but doesn’t mean they have to be done with your brand altogether.

Make sure the order cancelation email goes out immediately after the order is cancelled. A study found 28 percent of people immediately go to their inbox after they cancel an order to check for a confirmation. If they don’t see one, that can cause two problems. One, they won’t feel heard as a customer, which is a big strike against doing future business with you. And two, they might jam up customer support. If it’s not possible to send the cancelation immediately because your system needs to process it, send a “cancelation requested” email so they know the process has begun.

Give the customer important information at the very top of the email, like when they should see the pending authorization come off their credit card statement.

The order cancelation email is also an opportunity to get honest feedback, where you can ask the customer to share why they cancelled. You can also encourage them to follow your product updates or keep reading your content to learn about other products you sell they might like.

Can you add marketing?

It might feel like a tough proposition to try to sell products in an order cancellation email—but some brands do it. (And as we noted earlier, based on Jilt’s data, order cancelations can bring in some revenue.) Kohl’s, Overstock, and other major retailers recommend a few products in their cancelation emails. If you are going to recommend things, it’s probably best to go with your top-selling products—those may be safer bets that won’t lead to another cancelation from the same customer. You could also try recommending similar products to the one that was canceled. “Didn’t like that sweater? Try these others on instead!”

Notices

Notices are generally one-off emails, which would make them similar to your broadcast emails (like sales announcements and newsletters). However, because of the nature of the content of the emails, they’re transactional—meaning they serve a necessary business purpose and don’t require an opt-in.

Recall alerts and product safety notifications

We hope you’ll never have to issue a recall or send a product safety notification because of unforeseen circumstances with a product. However, if you do, it’s important to keep the emails directly focused on the reason behind the recall or notice, steps customers should take immediately to ensure their safety, and, if applicable, how they can go about returning their product to get a refund.

A related type of notice is the “we got hacked” notice. And much like a recall or safety notice, you’ll want to be very straightforward: What happened, what information was jeopardized, what steps you’ve taken to ensure the safety of your customers’ information now and going forward, and what customers need to do.

Bad news like a recall isn’t necessarily a business killer—believe it or not, it can be the opposite. One study found 91 percent of customers are understanding about the necessities of recalls. And 87 percent said they’d be “more likely to purchase and remain loyal to a company or brand that handles a product recall honorably and responsibly.” [Emphasis ours.]

87 percent of customers say they’d be ‘more likely to purchase and remain loyal to a company or brand that handles a product recall honorably and responsibly.’

So how do you convey that sense of honor and responsibility in your email to potentially strengthen your customer relationship with bad news? First, it’s best to get in front of a problem—it’s not a good look when a company only announces a recall or a hack after it’s been reported. 

Second, make your refund or make-good policy crystal clear, and give simple instructions for customers to take advantage of it. And third, be contrite, share customer service issues, and pledge to do what it takes to make this right and avoid similar scenarios in the future.

Emails delivering very bad news are a situation where you may not want to include your logo or branding. (After all, you want your logo to have a mental association with good things, like “your product is shipped!”—and not bad things, like “this product is actually pretty dangerous to have in your house.”) In fact, these bad news emails present a scenario where plain text can work best. Here’s an example from Amazon, when they recalled a line of protein bars. The subject line is direct, the body of the email is plain text, and it contains all of the necessary information and nothing more.

While they don’t go as far as apologizing (we can imagine there’s legal rationale at play there), they do include the line “The safety and satisfaction of our customers is our highest priority.  We regret any inconvenience this may cause you.” The goal there is to show contrition to try to keep the relationship with the customer alive, even after delivering bad news.

A recall notification.

Can you add marketing?

Can you sell with a bad news email? It’s quite a needle to thread, but if you’re bold, you can try. Here’s how a company that sells vape supplies responded to a growing concern over vaping after five deaths in September of 2019. They laid out their homespun credentials (“a small family-owned company”)… distanced themselves from the vape products causing problems (“never used Vitamin E Acetate or any other additive linked to what the CDC is calling ‘Severe Pulmonary Disease’”)… demonstrated how their vape products won’t kill you and the ones that will come from black market sellers… made a promise to sell only high-quality products… gave contact info for anyone having concerns… and then offered a 20 percent discount with the coupon code “StaySafe.” Will that work as a sales technique? Hard to say—but they definitely took a shot.

Selling in a bad news email.

Policy updates

For legal reasons, you need to alert your customers when you update your privacy policy or terms of service. These emails aren’t very exciting for customers—they’re filled with legalese and, you’d think, most people won’t take the time to read through them. (In fact, it seems the main time we hear about a privacy policy is when a company puts something way too aggressive or invasive in one, someone notices it, and it makes the media rounds.)

However, if you can try to make them as user-friendly (and human-readable) as possible—and if you do that well, you might even score points in the minds of some customers. Here’s how Hulu approached its update to its terms of service and privacy policy. They used their branding and color scheme to make the update feel less dry. Then they broke down the biggest changes in easy-to-read bullet points. Because they took that effort, when they included a little bit of marketing for their TV service at the bottom of the email, it actually felt earned.

A policy update email doesn't have to be boring.

Can you add marketing?

As Hulu shows above, you can—but it’s probably best to keep it simple. Also, since it’s hard to picture a huge number of people reading all the way through your policy update emails, any marketing you include most likely won’t get great results. 

Unsubscribe confirmation

Unsubscribe confirmations aren’t particularly well-liked emails. If someone unsubscribes from your list, odds are the last thing they want from you is another email. They’re very possibly a way to alienate people and possibly have them mark you as spam. But if you feel like you want to send them, at least try to get something out of them. You can offer a link for the person to re-subscribe—and make sure they know you’d always welcome them back.

One reason you may want to send unsubscribe emails is if you encourage your subscribers to forward your newsletters or sales announcements to friends. Those friends may click the unsubscribe link, which would remove the customer who forwarded the email from your list. In those cases, you could say something like, “Surprised to get this message? It’s possible that you forwarded one of our emails to a friend and they clicked ‘unsubscribe’—which knocked you off our list. And if that’s the case, click right here to re-subscribe to keep getting our newsletter.”

An unsubscribe notification.

Can you add marketing?

It’s not a good idea to add marketing to unsubscribe confirmation emails. Subscribers already probably don’t want to hear from you, so also trying to use them as a sales opportunity just increases the chances you’ll annoy them into a spam report.

Dunning emails

Dunning emails are notifications about payment issues, including things like expired credit cards, overdue payments, or failed payments. 

The trick to dunning emails is conveying the correct tone. They’re inherently negative—no one likes to hear about any financial-related issues—so your aim should be to keep them positive. Politely, or at least neutrally, explain what’s happening. You don’t want to come off like you’re casting blame or accusing them of anything—but you will need to gently remind them by when they need to resolve the issue and what they’ll lose if they don’t.

If the customer owes money, tell them what they owe and when it’s due. And always provide a link of where they can go to make a payment or update their credit card info—or to contact customer service if they need to talk to someone.

A study found 10 days advance notice leads to the most payments. (PDF) But you can start the process a month out to give the person more advanced notice of what’s happening.

Here’s Spotify’s very gentle and reassuring dunning email. Notice how it’s not at all accusatory (the “Oh no, your payment failed” headline is designed not to cast aspersions on the recipient or even remotely suggest they’ve done something wrong). They also say they’ll try again over the next few days, reassuring the customer that if they update their info it won’t cause any service interruptions or problems—or even require any extra action.

A dunning notice email.

Can you add marketing?

Dunning emails probably aren’t the best time to try to sell to a customer. Firstly, the emails aren’t exciting or building customer enthusiasm—they’re bad news about payment issues—so the customer won’t exactly be ripe to do more shopping. And secondly, you’re sending the dunning email because you’re already having trouble with a customer paying you—do you really want to add more stuff to their tab that they might not pay you for?

Renewal notices

Renewal notices go out to a customer to let them know a renewal, either automatic or manual, is coming up. They’re related to replenishment reminders, however, those are more marketing-oriented while renewal notices are more focused on just the details.

A series of renewal notices is a good way to make sure a customer isn’t caught off guard—either by something auto-renewing, or something on the immediate verge of expiring because they needed to manually renew it themselves. Here’s a sample renewal series you can send.

Email 1. Send the first reminder one month before the renewal date. You might even want to offer an incentive for renewing early. Take the sting (for you) out of offering a coupon by conditioning your offer on the customer renewing for a longer term (e.g., “Save 30 percent by renewing for a two year plan instead of one!”). And be sure to set an expiration date on the offer, which creates a sense of urgency and incentivizes early action.

Email 2. Send the second reminder two weeks before the renewal date. You can use a stronger call-to-action here and boost the sense of urgency about what the customer will miss out on if they don’t renew.

It’s important to create a sense of urgency and remind a customer what they will lose if they let their subscription or membership lapse.

Email 3. Send the third email a few days before the renewal date. This email should use a big, bold call-to-action.

Email 4. After the renewal date has passed, if the customer still hasn’t renewed, offer a short grace period where they can keep their data/benefits/etc. without penalty if they renew quickly.

For each of these emails, make sure they’re personal—you’re speaking directly to the customer about their specific renewal, their specific benefits from renewing, and why you value them personally. Also, clearly lay out all the benefits of renewing, including things that may have changed or been updated since they last renewed that they might not know about.

Can you add marketing?

Renewal notices are already selling—they’re selling the renewal. That means it’s not a great time to market other products, since you’re really focused on one main goal, which is to keep this valuable recurring customer.

Here’s the final email in GoDaddy’s domain name renewal series—one that comes when the grace period is almost over and the customer would get an extra fee for trying to renew the registration. It’s firmly worded but also tries to be informative. And, yes, at the bottom they have a search box to try to sell you another domain if you don’t want this one anymore, so there are ways to add additional marketing if you carefully tie it back to the customer’s initial purpose.

A cancelation notice.

Price changes for subscriptions and other recurring charges

If you offer subscriptions to digital or physical products, paid memberships, or anything else with a recurring charge, you’ll need to notify your customers when their prices are going up. After all, you don’t want them to look at their credit card statement one day and find their monthly box of rare jams from you suddenly costs $39 instead of $29. Emails on price changes are transactional because they’re a necessary part of doing business with the customer. After all, it’s not just important to let customers know the price is going up—they’d be furious if you didn’t.

To keep these emails solidly transactional, make sure you’re very straightforward about the price increase and the justification behind the price increase. If that justification is “we added lots of new benefits/features,” clearly lay them out (or direct your customers to a link where you’ll elaborate on each one).

Can you add marketing?

An email that’s telling a customer how prices are going up probably isn’t the best time to try to sell even more stuff to them. That being said, check out what Dropbox does in this transactional email about its price increase from $99/year to $120/year.  They use language to focus on the benefits (“save everything,” “roll back accidental changes”) and try to illustrate that the 20 percent cost increase isn’t that bad considering what you’ll get. By really focusing on the benefits of the upgrades that accompany the price increase, they’re tacitly marketing the product and giving customers an incentive not to cancel their subscription.

A price increase notification.

You can do the same with your price change emails—try to focus on the benefits to your customer as you describe the features. (Think of how Apple didn’t say the first iPod could store one gigabyte of mp3s, they said “1,000 songs in your pocket.”)

Necessary product updates

Not every product update is transactional—for example, if I buy a copy of NBA 2K20 and opt out of marketing emails, the people at 2K Sports can’t email me to tell me NBA 2K21 is coming out and I should buy it. However, some product updates are transactional if they’re necessary for a customer to continue using the product. For example, if a company updates their app and the old version will stop working on a certain date, they could tell you in a transactional email that you need to download the new version.

Can you add marketing?

You may be able to add a little bit of marketing content to a necessary product update—say, a link at the end of the email to “see the other new things we’ve been working on” or even a upsell to a higher tier of the product.

However, if the product update requires a paid upgrade, it’s probably not wise to try to sell something else in the email as well.

Summary and implementations

Summary

Transactional emails aren’t technically marketing emails—they’re business-focused emails prompted by a customer’s actions. Because they’re considered a fundamental and necessary part of operating your business, they don’t require an opt-in. But, as a result, they have to be almost completely focused on specific business details—not marketing or selling.

Transactional emails have extremely high open and click-through rates and, while they are business-oriented, there are still some opportunities to use them to do a bit of selling or accomplish other marketing goals.

Some general tips for all types of transactional emails are:

  • Keep them straightforward and informative.
  • Don’t get fancy with the subject line.
  • Put the key information at the top.
  • Make sure their primary purpose is transactional to keep them fully legal.
  • But don’t forget they are a customer touchpoint, so even if you’re not doing overt marketing, they’re still a chance to reinforce your brand through things like your logo, color choices, and verbiage.

Post-subscription or account creation emails include double opt-ins and password resets and account changes.

  • Double opt-ins. Keep them simple and double check the process by subscribing to your own list to make sure the email flow is smooth. They aren’t a great time to try to sell—your goal is to land the person as a subscriber, which will give you lots of opportunities to sell to them in the future.
  • Password reset and account changes. Just focus on the basics, as these emails are generally short and to the point. It’s hard to squeeze in marketing, but many brands include their social media links on these emails to try to pick up a few extra followers.

Post-purchase transactional emails include order confirmations and receipts, shipping confirmations and tracking info, order delivered notifications, and order cancellations.

  • Order confirmation and receipts. These are exciting emails for customers and have been proven to drive extra revenue to a business. After you deliver all of the key details about the order, you can use them to upsell or cross-sell—or for another customer action like feedback, sharing, referrals, or joining a VIP or loyalty program.
  • Shipping confirmations. These are another exciting moment where you should give tracking info and a time estimate—then consider adding in a cross-sell or other customer request.
  • Order delivered. These emails are a good showcase for your customer service, giving you a chance to check if a customer is satisfied, offer a variety of support options, and provide how-to guides and links to resources about the product.
  • Order cancellation. Try to turn a negative into a positive—you’re losing the order, but maybe you can save the customer relationship. Send order cancellations out immediately after an order is cancelled and offer opportunities for the customer to stay engaged with your brand. Some companies even offer a few alternate products the customer might be interested in buying that suit them better than the product they just cancelled.

Notices are transactional emails including recall and safety notifications, policy updates, unsubscribe confirmations, dunning emails, renewal notifications, price change notifications, and necessary product updates.

  • Recall alerts and product safety notifications. If you need to issue a recall or give a safety update, keep the email as straightforward as possible—and make it clear exactly what actions the customer should take. By demonstrating genuine care for your customers in these situations, you might be able to salvage the relationship.
  • Policy updates. Emails that are filled with legalese aren’t particularly exciting, but they’re necessary—and if you take the time to really break down the big changes in plain English, your customers might really appreciate it.
  • Unsubscribe confirmations. These aren’t recommended—after all, when someone chooses to leave your list, the last thing they want is another email from you. But if you do send them, make sure they have a no-pressure offer to re-subscribe whenever the person might want, and a direct link to do so.
  • Dunning emails. Dunning emails are about payment issues including expired credit cards and overdue or failed payments. The key is to convey the correct tone. Keep them positive and polite, don’t cast blame, and be very straightforward with what’s owed and what will happen if it isn’t paid by a certain date.
  • Renewal notices. These work best in a series starting a month ahead of a renewal date to prime a customer about an upcoming automatic or manual renewal. Increase the urgency with every subsequent renewal email, and if someone misses the final date, send an email offering a short grace period if they renew right away.
  • Price changes. When you’re changing the price of a subscription product, clearly lay out all of the new features you’ve added and show their benefits to your customer.
  • Necessary product updates. When there’s a major product update that can affect the customer’s ability to use a product, you should notify them in advance and spell out the steps they need to take.

Implementations

Step 1: Set up your key transactional templates

  • Get your basic transactional templates down for all the emails you’ll need to send without worrying about adding marketing or anything except the straightforward business information.
  • Test your transactional emails to make sure they go out when expected and look correct.

Step 2: Mix in some marketing

  • Decide what kind of small marketing asks you want to make in the appropriate transactional emails.
  • Add it in, making sure to keep the emails overwhelmingly focused on the business information and not the marketing.
  • Consider consulting with a legal professional to make sure your emails are staying safely within the laws around transactional emails.

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