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Transactional Emails: Everything You Need to Know

Email has been the go-to channel for business-to-consumer communication for years. Even with the growing number of digital channels we have access to today, it seems that email is still valued as a reliable channel for communicating the most important details.

In fact, there are 4 billion daily email users worldwide and more than 306 billion emails are sent and received each day.

That’s probably why more businesses have chosen to boost their email efforts in hopes of seeing increases in customer engagement, ROI, and brand loyalty.

However, there is more than one type of email. And although new tools and solutions have made marketing emails more appealing, we shouldn’t forget about transactional emails – which have 3x higher click-through rates than non-transactional ones.

transactional emails have 3x higher click-through rates

Here we highlight what transactional emails are and why you should add them to your customer communication mix:

  1. What are transactional emails
  2. Transactional vs marketing emails
  3. Do transactional emails require subscriptions
  4. How to send transactional emails
  5. Types of transactional emails and examples
  6. Tips for creating better transactional emails
  7. Your transactional email checklist
  8. Get started

What are transactional emails?

Transactional emails are any email sent from a business to an individual recipient, triggered by user requests or actions.

For example, whenever a user creates an account, completes a purchase, requests a password reset, or receives an account notification – they’ve performed an action that requires a transactional email confirmation. 

Once a customer completes a transaction through your website or app, they expect an email to be delivered to their inbox containing key information related to that action.

If they placed an order, your series of transactional emails that follow would include:

  • Confirmation that you received their order and payment
  • Confirmation that their order has shipped (followed by tracking details, if applicable)
  • Confirmation the order has been delivered
Examples of different transactional emails

It’s important, however, not to confuse transactional emails with marketing ones. A key distinction between the two is that businesses don’t require customer consent to send transactional emails. The act of creating an account or placing an order translates into consent from the customer to start a relationship with your business that requires basic communication.

Transactional vs marketing emails

The difference between transactional and marketing (or promotional) emails is that transactional emails require a transactional trigger event – i.e. a commercial transaction. As we stated above, the type of transaction or action can vary depending on the nature of your business.

A transactional email will contain information that relates to a commercial transaction between the user and the business. They are low-cost and short-term with high open rates – and can help build brand loyalty. The goal of a transactional email is to keep customers informed and to provide details that the customer needs to complete their transaction, such as a one-time PIN, or to track the status of their transaction, such as package delivery updates.

Marketing emails, on the other hand, aim to communicate promotions, offers, and other information that are not related to a transaction. Rather, these emails try to engage customers or leads enough to complete a transaction with your business. You might send a marketing email to promote your new seasonal collection if you’re a clothing brand or entice customers to take advantage of a limited-time offer for a loan if you’re a financial institution.

transactional versus marketing emails

As we mentioned earlier, transactional emails don’t require customer consent – but marketing emails do. Often businesses that want to send out marketing emails must request the customer to opt in. Otherwise, their emails can be flagged as spam or junk.

Do transactional emails require subscriptions?

Since transactional emails are triggered by (and relate to) a unique event or action, recipients do not need to subscribe.

You can offer users to subscribe to promotional emails at checkout. However, transactional emails relate only to a specific transaction and do not have a promotional character. Because of this, transactional emails do not require subscriptions or unsubscribe options.

If your business operates within the European Union (EU), you need to ensure your emails comply with the GDPR. This means the content in your transactional emails needs to be related only to the event or action itself. In other words, you cannot add promotional elements to a transaction-focused email.

Transactional emails that are GDPR-compliant are clear and hold information that is of interest to your customer.

For example, if your customer places an order on your website, they will expect to receive an email with their order confirmation and shipping details. However, they will not expect to see limited-time offers or seasonal promotions land in their inbox unless they’ve opted-in for those at check-out. If you add this type of content to a transactional email that is sent based on the customer’s personal data which was shared for their order, rather than in a promotional email that they opted-in to receive, you will be going against the GDPR.

How to send transactional emails?

A key benefit to sending transactional emails is that you can set up marketing automation. Simply define and set which conditions are needed to trigger the email and once a customer completes a transaction that fulfills those conditions, they should receive your email within seconds.

However, sending transactional emails will require you to integrate with an email provider via SMTP or HTTP.

SMTP is the quick and easy, code-free integration method ideal for anyone who needs to send transactional emails, quickly. It is a simple and flexible integration method that will work with most existing applications. 

HTTP is the recommended integration method for users who require higher email delivery speeds, lower latency, and higher security. It’s a bit more demanding in terms of integration, but could be more beneficial for your business. 

It’s best to consult an expert before deciding on either method.

Types of transactional emails & examples

We’ve already outlined a couple of the most common types of transactional emails above. However, you can automate and send emails related to almost any transaction or event in any industry. Below are examples of transactional emails you can set up for your customers depending on the nature of your business.

1. Order confirmations

When a user completes an order, it’s reassuring to receive an order confirmation. These should contain information confirming the order, price, and estimated shipping times as well as useful links such as to your return policy or customer care center.

2. Invoice

Either as a green alternative to sending a printed version accompanying physical goods, or as confirmation of payment received for services, digital or intangible goods – sending users an invoice is a must. You can even set up reminder emails to alert customers that the payment deadline is approaching and communicate important details such as late payment fees.

Example of invoice transactional email

3. Shipping confirmations

An automated transactional email that customers appreciate is the shipping confirmation notification. These should include a tracking number as well as links to the courier’s site for any last-mile assistance.

shipping confirmation

4. Delivery confirmation

Recipients may be away from the delivery address when their order is delivered – probably at the office or otherwise indisposed. Delivery confirmation emails tell them their orders have arrived. You can provide additional information such as the courier’s phone number in case they need to leave the package in a specific location if they’re not home.

5. Double opt-in

When a user signs up for a service or newsletter, a double opt-in email is sent where they can confirm their subscription. Some jurisdictions legally require double opt-ins. But even if double opt-in lists aren’t legally required, they still help businesses confirm email address validity.

account notifications email

6. Password reset 

Users will sometimes want to reset their password for several reasons – the most often being they forgot a complex one and locked themselves out of their own account. Password reset requests help with this by sending an email to their inbox containing either a temporary password, or a button directing them to your password reset page.

7. Legal updates

Any updates to your legal agreements, whether privacy policy or your terms and conditions – must be communicated to your users. This type of transactional email should consist of a notification that you’ve made changes. Add a link to your website where users can see the specific changes you’ve made, and how they impact your users.

Example of privacy policy update email

8. Account notifications

These transactional emails are similar to legal updates but concern user accounts. Any changes to the user account, such as suspension due to violations outlined in your service terms and conditions, need to be communicated to your users. These emails should consist of the account-related notification and useful information including details or links to your related subsite.

9. Login alerts

Alert users about logins from new devices on their account. These could be a sign of account takeover. Login notification emails should include the location, time, and date of the new device login, as well as device type, with a link to prevent the login from that device if a threat is detected.

login alert email

5 Tips for better transactional emails

Since transactional emails can be bland and uninteresting by default – let’s face it, it’s more exciting to see a 25% off coupon in your inbox than an invoice – here are five tips you can implement to increase engagement, ROI, and click-through rates.

Add brand elements

Setting up a template with your brand elements can boost the appeal of your transactional emails. You can create a frame with your brand logo or highlight important words in your brand colors. Giving your emails personality will make them more enticing and memorable.

Make your subject lines clear

As we mentioned above, the best transactional emails are clear. And the best place to start with crafting clear content is in the subject line and preheader copy of your emails. Ensure the customer knows what the email holds before they open it – include your company name, the action they completed, and any other relevant information such as their order number or one-time PIN.

Update your sender address

In a hyper-personalized world, nobody wants to feel like they’re talking to a machine. Long gone are the noreply@shop.com days. It’s time to update your sender email address to a word, phrase, or name more specific to the customer’s transaction. For example, if they placed an order, you might consider orders@shop.com or if you’re sending them an invoice you can try invoices@mobileworld.com.

Optimize for mobile devices

It’s important to ensure your emails are optimized for mobile devices including smartphones and tablets. Otherwise, customers might have trouble accessing the information they need, such as not being able to open an attached file or click on a link to complete their action.

Use proper links and buttons

Since transactional emails are an important piece of the puzzle, it’s worth spending extra time ensuring the links you include in them work and lead the customer to the right place. It would be hard for a customer to reset their password if the “reset password” button led them to the wrong site. Spending an extra few minutes to double-check and test the links and buttons in your emails can prevent an increase in customer complaints to your contact center or a decrease in loyal customers.

Elements of a good transactional email

Your transactional email checklist

Use this checklist to ensure your emails are optimized for the best performance:

Set up

  • Set up SMTP or HTTP
  • Set up marketing automation

Sender Email Address

  • From name is a product or company that is familiar to the customer
  • The sender email is readable and related to the content (For example: accounts@shop.com for a password reset email or orders@shop.com for order confirmation emails)
  • Add your logo as your sender email avatar so customers recognize it immediately

Subject Lines and Preheaders

  • Keep it concise and clear (up to 50 characters)
  • Communicate key information related to the transaction (For example: If it’s an order confirmation email, state this in the subject line and place the order number in the preheader section)

Accessibility

  • Create a plain text alternative
  • Make links stand out and ensure they work
  • Optimize for mobile devices (smartphones and tablets)
  • Keep sentences short and break up text into paragraphs
  • Provide a clear way to unsubscribe

Personalization

  • Address the customer by first name when possible
  • Ensure email content is related to the customer’s transaction or action
  • Clearly state why the customer is receiving the email

Performance

  • Track delivery and open rates
  • A/B test different subject lines, preheaders, avatars, and more to see which performs best

Why you need transactional emails

Transactional emails are crucial to any business. From enhancing customer experience in ecommerce, to protecting user accounts across a broad range of services, transactional emails have a role to play in the modern digital economy.

This post was last modified on May 20, 2022 and originally published on November 18, 2021.

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