What are transactional emails: the ins and outs

You’ve just made an online purchase, eagerly anticipating the arrival of your new gadget or favourite pair of shoes. As you sit back, you receive a transactional email confirming your order with all the necessary details. A few days later, another email pops up, letting you know your package is on its way, with a tracking number for your convenience. Then, just when you’ve almost forgotten your login details (for the second time), a helpful email arrives, guiding you through the password reset process seamlessly.

Without realising it, you rely on transactional emails to navigate your online journey smoothly. In this guide, we’re shedding light on these types of emails, looking at how they are used and how you can make transactional emails work for your business.

What is transactional email?

Let’s get the definition out of the way first. At its core, a transactional email is an email that is triggered by a specific user action or event. Unlike marketing emails, which aim to entice recipients with offers or discounts, transactional emails serve a purely functional purpose: to provide users with timely and relevant information related to their interactions with a website or service.

The distinction between transactional and promotional emails lies in their intent and content. While marketing emails are designed to market products or services and ultimately drive sales, transactional emails, by definition, focus on delivering information that is directly pertinent to the user’s actions or inquiries.

Think of it this way: a marketing email might offer you a 20% discount on your next purchase, enticing you to shop. In contrast, a transactional email confirms that your recent order has been processed successfully or provides instructions for resetting your password – actions directly initiated by you, the user.

This does, however, not always mean that you cannot have marketing content in your transactional emails, as we will discuss further in this article.

To understand fully what transactional emails are, looking at them from both the sending and receiving end is essential. For recipients, transactional emails serve as a lifeline, offering peace of mind that their transactions have been processed successfully and their accounts are secure. Without these emails, users would be left in the dark, uncertain about the status of their actions and transactions.

From a business perspective, transactional emails provide valuable touchpoints for driving further interaction and loyalty, as businesses can leverage these communications to upsell products, gather feedback, or promote additional services.

It’s not too difficult to find examples of transactional emails. You open your inbox, and you can easily find a plethora of them in one single view. To give you a few ideas of what constitutes a transactional email, though, we’ve listed four types of transactional emails that can be found in (almost) every inbox:

1. Account creation and verification emails

One of the most common use cases for transactional emails is account creation and verification. When someone signs up for a new account on a website or platform, they typically receive a confirmation email to verify their email address and activate their account. This email serves as a crucial step in the onboarding process, ensuring that they can access their accounts securely and begin using the platform’s features.

2. Order confirmation and shipping notifications

After making a purchase online, customers expect to receive a confirmation email that provides details about their order, including the items purchased, the total cost, and the expected delivery date. Additionally, they appreciate receiving shipping notifications that keep them informed about the status of their package and provide tracking information for easy monitoring.

3. Password reset emails

When someone requests a password reset, they receive an email with instructions on how to reset their password securely. These emails typically contain a unique link allowing users to reset their passwords securely, ensuring that only authorised individuals can change their account credentials.

4. Receipts and invoices

Transactional emails also serve as receipts and invoices, providing users with their purchases and transaction documentation. These emails typically include details such as the items purchased, the total cost, and any applicable taxes or fees. Receipts and invoices are essential for users to keep track of their spending and reconcile their accounts accurately.

Are you interested in learning more about transactional emails for your industry? Find out more about transactional emails in B2B here or about B2C transactional emails here.

Best practices for transactional email

Since transactional emails are a critical component of effective communication between businesses and their customers, it is crucial that you do it right. To ensure they hit the inbox and serve their purpose, you must adhere to these two baseline principles for sending transactional emails:

  1. Deliverability (monitoring)
  2. Clear and concise content

Ensuring that transactional emails reach recipients’ inboxes is vital to a good customer experience. Imagine waiting for an hour plus for a password reset or finding your favourite brand’s email in your SPAM inbox. Ugh…

What is email deliverability?

We talk about email deliverability when we focus on what happens after the email is sent to the receiving party. Where email delivery focuses on the process of getting to an inbox (like Gmail), deliverability is the judgment this inbox makes on whether or not it will allow it to go to the inbox, the commercial inbox, spam, or even decline the email from going into the mailbox.

Key metrics & measures for a good deliverability rate

To achieve optimal deliverability rates, senders have to prioritise several key metrics and measures. These do not necessarily stop at transactional emails but also include email marketing best practices. In the end, all emails you send out from your domain are judged equally by the receiving party, and a bad marketing campaign can ruin your chances of hitting the inbox with your order confirmations.

These measures include maintaining a clean email list and implementing email authentication protocols such as SPF (the Sender Policy Framework), DKIM (DomainKeys Identified Mail), and DMARC (Domain-based Message Authentication, Reporting & Conformance) to verify the legitimacy of sender domains. With these measures in place, you reduce the risk of being sent to the spam box.

Knowing whether these measures had any effect on the deliverability of your transactional emails means looking at key metrics for deliverability. Critical metrics for deliverability include bounce rates, spam complaints, and inbox placement rates.

The equation is simple. Better deliverability for your transactional emails equals a better experience for your customers.

Creating transactional emails with clear and straightforward content is crucial for effective communication. Transactional emails are meant to fulfil or confirm a request, so the content of the email should fit that purpose.

Emails should provide relevant information in a simple and direct manner, avoiding unnecessary details. By keeping the message concise and easy to understand, you make sure that your recipient can quickly grasp why they’re receiving the email and what needs to be done now. Whether it’s confirming a purchase, updating account details, or guiding users through a password reset process, transactional emails should deliver the required information clearly and efficiently.

The Inverted Pyramid framework for transactional emails

A very effective way to create clear and concise emails is by following the inverted pyramid framework. This framework helps you structure your transactional emails by following a very straightforward set of principles:

  1. Start with the focus of the email
  2. Provide the necessary information below the main message
  3. End the email with additional content

One example is Crocs’ order confirmation. As a recipient, you need to know the status of your order first. Then, it’s good to double-check your details (i.e. shipping address). After all that, it is nice to have to see the image of what you’ve ordered again – something to do with post-purchase dissonance?

transactional email sent by Crocs

Strategies to get more out of your transactional email

With the recommended practices in place, your emails are now hitting the inbox, and their contents are in line with your expectations. Congratulations, you’re now sending transactional emails the way you should. Moving on from the baseline necessities, you might be wondering what transactional emails can do more. In this final chapter, we’re diving into transactional email strategies that will help you understand what you’re sending and how you can improve these emails.

Understanding your customer’s journey with your brand is essential for identifying the transactional emails that support each stage of the process. Regardless of your business type or the specific customer journey mapping (like the B2B Buyer Journey) approach you use, following these steps will help you identify and optimise your transactional email communications effectively.

  1. Define your customer journey
    Start with defining the stages of your customer journey, from awareness to conversion and beyond. Map out the key touchpoints and interactions customers have with your business, both online and offline (i.e. a digital receipt after a visit to your brick-and-mortar store).
  2. Identify email triggers
    Next, identify the trigger points or actions that prompt transactional emails to be sent. These triggers could include actions such as account creations, purchases, form submissions, or account updates.
  3. Audit existing transactional emails
    Conducting an audit of your existing transactional emails helps you to identify gaps or areas for improvement. Evaluate the content, design, and timing of each email to ensure they align with the customer journey and effectively meet customer needs.

Now that you’ve identified what emails you’re sending and what possible improvements can be made, your most likely next step is to look at their design. At Spotler, we often see that transactional emails tend to be ‘forgotten’ in the brand mix, even though design plays a crucial role in ensuring that transactional emails effectively convey your brand identity and the purpose of the communication.

After analysing millions of transactional emails, Spotler has identified four steps to enhance the design of your transactional emails and create a cohesive brand experience for recipients:

  1. Establish brand consistency
    Ensure that your transactional emails reflect your brand’s visual identity, including colours, fonts, and logos. Use branded elements consistently across all transactional emails to create a cohesive and recognisable brand experience.
  2. Prioritise simplicity
    Keep the design of your transactional emails clean, simple, and easy to navigate. Avoid cluttered layouts or excessive design elements that can distract from the main message.
  3. Personalise where possible
    Personalising the design of your transactional emails creates a more engaging and relevant experience for recipients. Incorporate dynamic content such as personalised greetings, product recommendations, or order details based on recipient data or previous interactions.
  4. Include a clear Call-to-Action (CTA)
    When applicable, include a clear and prominent call-to-action (CTA) in your transactional emails to guide recipients towards the desired action. Make it easy for them to take the next step by using a well-designed call-to-action.

With average open rates that are twice as high as standard marketing emails, transactional emails leave us to wonder whether we can do more with them from a marketing perspective. Keep in mind that ‘marketing’ doesn’t mean we can spam our recipients with everything the marketing department has to say, but there are nuances when it comes to transactional email marketing.

Integrating marketing tactics into transactional emails can be as simple as including personalised product recommendations based on the customer’s past purchases. For instance, a transactional email confirming a recent clothing purchase could also suggest complementary items or accessories that the customer might be interested in.

Next to that, transactional emails give you the opportunity to provide your recipients with helpful content that will keep them engaged with your brand post-transaction. One of our favourite emails is Indeed’s onboarding email.

Finally, transactional emails are ideal for collecting valuable feedback or encouraging customers to follow the brand on social media for exclusive updates and content. These tactics enhance the customer experience and drive further engagement and revenue for the business.

Optimising your transactional email game is nothing if you don’t test it. Keeping an eye on every single iteration you make to your transactional emails is paramount to a successful strategy. Testing your transactional email strategy can be as simple as A/B testing all the changes you make one by one. If you have a large enough base, it’s relatively easy and significant to test whether, i.e., your new personalisation works as intended.

With everything you do, keep in mind that you should monitor the deliverability rates we discussed earlier in this article. You can create the most beautiful transactional email ever, but it ends up in the abyss of SPAM emails if you’re not careful about your deliverability.

Wrapped up: what is transactional email?

In our online world, transactional emails are essential communications between businesses and their customers. From order confirmations to password resets, these emails provide clarity and assurance. In this article, we’ve explored their fundamentals and strategic integration, focusing on both the baseline necessities (like SPF, DKIM, and DMARC compliance) and their potential for your business communications strategy. One thing is clear: transactional emails are crucial for a seamless customer experience.

Interested in getting more out of your transactional emails? Sign up for a free SendPro-account today!

Want to take your transactional emails to the next level?

Then check out our software Spotler SendPro. This is special software for transactional email. Request a trial account or schedule a a demo. We’d be happy to tell you more about the possibilities of SendPro and working with Spotler.

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