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Published on June 12th, 2007 | by Janine Popick


What is a Transactional Email and How Can You Use Them?

When the US Federal Anti-Spam Legislation came out in 2003 they defined  "transactional emails" very differently from "commercial emails". Transactional emails come in many shapes and forms and could be a very nice form of business for you, in many cases some of your best performing email.

Here are examples of transactional email:

  • Thank you emails after someone purchases from you.
  • Shipping notification of a product you sold.
  • Your confirmation email when a visitor signs up for your site.
  • Information about your customers rewards or points programs.
  • Your Privacy Policy changes.
  • Product feature changes or releases.
  • Warranty information, product recall information or safety or
    security information from a product or service you sell.
  • Any account balance information or statements to a subscription, membership, account, loan.
  • Product updates or upgrades, that your recipient needs to know about.

You get the idea right? An email can remain “transactional” under CAN-SPAM but still
include promotional content as long as the primary purpose is not promotional. What does that mean? The subject line needs to relate to the transactional message and the content must be mainly transaction-based.  The entire transactional message must appear at the beginning of the email.

So what can you do?

  • Make sure you’re putting the content into your transactional email, not your IT person (sorry!)
  • Add some color! Most transactional emails are boring text-based emails. Use images, use color and HTML to make it interesting PLUS it’s the only way you’ll get reporting on them.
  • Track them! Make sure you get reporting on who clicked and who opened the email. See the VerticalResponse API site to help if you need us to do this function for you instead of your IT staff.
  • Include a few links and content to a cross-sell of a product or service you think your recipients would like.
  • Include other areas of your site for them to browse for more information on the product they purchased.
  • Add in FAQs.
  • Include customer service information for those that need help.

After I spent time this weekend writing this, I found Dave Lewis from Strongmail JUST wrote for DM News about transactional emails. Mine has a bit of a different slant so read his too!

Any other ideas on what people are doing with their transactional emails? Let’s hear them!

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About the Author

is the CEO and founder of VerticalResponse.

4 Responses to What is a Transactional Email and How Can You Use Them?

  1. Raj Jambotkar says:

    Bradley -
    You can send transactional emails the same way you send email campaigns. Specifically, the creation and sending process is one in the same. Realistically though, you would want to use the VerticalResponse API to automate these emails.
    For example, a customer’s order has just been shipped. You could wire up your systems to call our API and send a canned “Your Order Has Been Shipped” campaign with the relevant tracking information.
    I hope this helps!
    Raj (VR Product Manager)

  2. Bradley Holt says:

    How do I use transactional email with VerticalResponse? I don’t see anything in the regular or API documentation about transactional email.

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