January 25, 2018

The Complete Marketer’s Guide to Transactional Emails

Reading time about 13 min

Order confirmations, payment receipts, password reset emails — these are all transactional email examples, the often overlooked, but vitally important piece of email marketing. This transactional email guide is meant to give you a complete look at this essential element of building customer relationships through email.

Picture this: a potential customer tries subscribing to your newsletter. After entering her email address, she reaches a landing page that tells her to confirm her email address. After looking through her inbox, refreshing a few times, and even checking the spam folder, she finds nothing.

After a couple more minutes, she will leave to go subscribe to a competing website that is more serious about their email marketing.

Now a different scenario: you buy a brand new laptop for $2000.00, but receive nothing in your inbox… no order confirmation, no payment receipt — just crickets.

As I’m sure you would agree, neither of these situations are pleasant. But, they do highlight the importance of transactional emails.

Even minor errors or delays with your transactional emails can cause a massive erosion of trust with among your customers, potentially making them not want to come back.

Now that you have a better idea of how essential these messages are to customers, let’s explore transactional emails a bit more from a business perspective.

In this guide, you will learn:

  • The definition of transactional emails and how they work
  • Different types of transactional emails
  • How to properly set up transactional emails
  • How to optimize and leverage the marketing potential of your transactional emails

Overview: Transactional Email

Before we go too far, let’s answer the most important question:

This definition includes all of the emails that are sent automatically and instantly following an action or event on your website, such as:

  • Subscription confirmation (or double opt-in)
  • Order confirmation
  • Notification emails (delivery updates, new message, etc.)
  • Password reset emails
  • Bills, receipts, etc.

How are transactional emails different than email marketing?

The main difference between transactional emails and email marketing (or promotional emails) is the fact that transactional emails are sent after being triggered by a transaction or event on your site to one recipient. On the other hand, promotional/marketing emails are sent by you at a time that you specify to a list of (presumably) many contacts.

Another key difference is that transactional emails are functional in nature, meaning they serve a specific purpose that’s necessary to your business operations.

Although marketing emails are important for growing your business and building customer loyalty, your core business or website functionality is not affected by their absence.

What are the different types of transactional emails?

Transactional emails come in many different forms, often communicating important information that your customers or website visitors need in order to interact normally with your business.

To give you a better idea, here are a few of the different types of transactional emails that you might come across in the wild (or set up for your own site!):

Account creation or email subscription confirmation

Sent after a user creates an account or subscribes to a newsletter, this type of transactional email typically serves as a means of verifying a new customer’s email address.

transactional emails example: account verification

You can use this type of email for new users if you have user accounts through your site, or you can use it to confirm your contacts’ newsletter subscriptions through a double opt-in process.

Be careful not to confuse the account or subscription confirmation email with the welcome email, the latter of which serves more of a marketing purpose than a functional or transactional purpose.

Order confirmation

This is without a doubt the transactional email that your clients anticipate the most. If you sell online, it is absolutely essential that you send an order confirmation.

Order confirmation emails have several objectives:

  • Confirm the price and items that were purchased
  • Reassures the customer that the purchase went through
  • Provides all of the necessary information for keeping track of the order (order number, package tracking number, customer service contact details, etc.)
  • Give an estimated delivery date
transactional emails example: order confirmation

This email plays an important role in reassuring the customer: consumers often worry that there were problems with their order or billing information. This email assuages any concerns and confirms the exact amount that was charged and lists all of the items that were purchased.

This is especially important for that large group of customers who don’t usually shop online. That’s why it’s so important to make sure you properly set up your order confirmation emails to provide all of the necessary details and put customers at ease.

Order follow-up

Communication with customers doesn’t have to stop at the order confirmation email. In fact, it’s important that you continue to follow up with customers so they know exactly what’s going on with their order.

To keep customers in the loop, you can send transactional emails notifications for the various steps that their order goes through as it’s being delivered:

  • Shipping preparation
  • Shipping confirmation
  • Delivery confirmation
transactional emails example: shipping confirmation

While you may not need to send transactional emails for all of these scenarios, you should at least send shipping confirmations so that customers can know that it has been sent out, track their shipment, and be on the lookout on delivery day.

Bills and receipts

Receipts or bills can sometimes be integrated directly into the order confirmation email, but occasionally, websites dedicate a separate transactional email for this message as well.

This is usually the case for:

  • Businesses that don’t deliver a physical product
  • Subscription style payments that require regular receipts
transactional emails example: bill

Sending bills and receipts are important because they provide complete transparency to customers on how much (and how frequently) they’re being charged. It’s also important for record keeping — so keep your customers happy and provide them with the receipts they need.

Password reset

Password reset emails might be the least glamorous of the transactional emails, but they are also very important for providing a positive user experience on your website.

Their purpose is pretty self-explanatory: they allow users to reset their passwords when they’ve forgotten their previous login credentials.

transactional emails example: password reset

Making sure you’ve got a properly functioning password reset transactional email is very important because without it, users who forget their password will have no easy way to get back into their account and interact with your business!

How to set up transactional emails?

Transactional emails are sent according to SMTP (Simple Mail Transfer Protocol), an internet protocol for transmitting emails over the internet, and they require a special type of solution to ensure reliable and consistent deliverability.

Use a dedicated and reliable SMTP solution

The best option for successfully managing your transactional emails is to use a dedicated transactional email service like Sendinblue.

Although most ecommerce CMS (Woocomerce, Prestashop, Magento, etc.) provide default transactional emails out of the box, these generic options are very limited when compared with dedicated solutions like Sendinblue. Using a specialized tool lets you:

  • Follow real time analytics for deliverability and engagement for your emails
  • Personalize your templates for better branding, design, and user experience
  • Ensure optimal deliverability for all of your messages

If you only use your default CMS transactional emails, you will most likely be left with your fingers crossed, hoping that your emails were all delivered successfully.

Separate your transactional emails and your promotional marketing emails

It’s also very important to choose a solution that lets you separate the routing of your transactional emails with that of your promotional email campaigns.

As mentioned earlier, transactional emails often serve a very specific and vital purpose, without which your customers would not be able to properly interact with your site. You don’t want your transactional emails to suffer because of the inevitably lower deliverability and engagement of your marketing emails.

One problem with an email marketing campaign can damage your sender score, which can eventually affect the deliverability of your future emails. You want to avoid letting these types of problems impact your transactional emails at all costs.

With Sendinblue, you can:

  • Separate your marketing and transactional emails (by sender and IP address)
  • Manage and follow the performance of all of your emails from one account
  • All at no additional cost!

Set up your emails with Sendinblue transactional email service

To get transactional emails up and running for your site using Sendinblue, you have 3 options:

  1. Use one of our plugins that connects your CMS with Sendinblue (such as our WooCommerce plugin)
  2. Configure your SMTP settings manually through Sendinblue
  3. Use our API: read the documentation here

Note that the second and third options will require programming skills or the assistance of a developer. Developers can also check out our guide to setting up transactional emails with Next.js and Sendinblue.

If you don’t have access to a developer, your best bet is to find the right plugin to make setup much simpler.

Leverage the marketing potential of your transactional emails

As we’ve mentioned a few times in this article, the main purpose for transactional emails is functionality: communicate important information to the customer at the right time.

But, transactional emails also represent a massive marketing opportunity for brands who are willing to invest time in developing this digital real estate.

Why exactly do transactional emails have so much marketing potential?

Unlike regular promotional emails, which are sent at the discretion of marketers or business owners, transactional emails are automatically sent and expected by customers. In fact, an Experian study on transactional emails found that transactional emails saw open rates that were as much as 8 times those of marketing emails.

Despite these incredible engagement rates, many businesses fail to take advantage of this for bonus marketing value: no extra content or CTA to bring customers back for deeper engagement. In fact, many transactional emails are sent by third parties altogether (payment software, CMS, etc.), meaning they weren’t even created by the business in the first place!

Here are a few ways that you can get real marketing value from your transactional emails:

Personalize your transactional email templates with your brand colors

Most transactional emails are pretty bland and unengaging. Why not make them more attractive and recognizable using the colors of your brand?

On Sendinblue, you can edit your transactional emails using any one of several templates available in the design template library.

The simple act of adding your logo and a few links back to your site or your best content in a transactional email can make a big difference in the marketing ROI you get from these messages and strengthening your customer relationships.

Here is an example of an order confirmation template that you can customize for your own use in Sendinblue:

transactional email template

Cross-selling and upselling

This is a very simple optimization that you can do to really boost your online sales.

Amazon has been a champion of this strategy for a while, including personalized product recommendations for every order confirmation email:

product suggestions in transactional emails

As you can see in the example above, Amazon is recommending books that are similar in content to the one that was purchased in the order confirmation.

Suggesting similar products to encourage customers to come back for more is a great strategy, but it also requires integrating dynamic content in your emails, which can be quite technical and resource-intensive.

To achieve the same objective with a much simpler solution, you can include a static call-to-action for a product or offer that you are trying to highlight at the time the email is being sent. While, this isn’t as personalized or dynamic, it is also much easier to implement for beginners and can still improve sales significantly — without any additional investment in resources!

Additional information and added value

Transactional emails don’t have to be boring!

There are several ways to make them more engaging and interesting: adding extra “bonus” content or advice, promo codes, or special offers instead of just providing the expected information.

Take for example the email receipts that Uber sends customers after each ride:

uber receipt

This message includes:

  • A ride summary: start and end address, date, time, and a map of the route
  • A chance to review the driver
  • A chance to give a tip
  • A CTA to download the UberEATs app
  • An invitation to sign up for the Uber credit card
  • Social media CTAs

This perfectly illustrates how much value you can get from leveraging the underutilized real estate in your transactional emails.


Hopefully, this guide helped clear up any confusion about the role of transactional emails and the business opportunities they present. Now it’s your chance to start leveraging your transactional emails to get the greatest possible value and continue building positive customer relationships.

Are you looking for a reliable transactional email service solution? Try Sendinblue free to send up to 300 emails per day, or find the paid account that best fits your sending needs!

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