Email like order confirmations and shipping updates provide a valuable way for retailers to further connect with customers, as long as they do it intelligently.

Ryan Gould, vice president of strategy and marketing services, Elevation Marketing

Ryan Gould, vice president of strategy and marketing services, Elevation Marketing

Everybody jumped on the email marketing bandwagon a long time ago. After all, when studies show that email marketing’s ROI was north of 3000% (DMA), four times that of direct mail (Chief Marketer), and obtained customers up to 3x the value of customers sourced from other channels (McKinsey), one would be foolish to ignore it.

What email marketers have failed to do, however, is maximize the potential of one of the most profitable email types: transactional email.

Transactional email is exactly what it sounds like: all of the emails related to a customer’s order your brand sends during and after the purchase process. This includes emails like shipping updates, delivery confirmations, payment notifications, and the like.

What many marketers don’t know, however, is that transactional email—if used properly—can yield ROIs up to six times that of any other email type (Experian).


If you haven’t yet started capitalizing on the opportunity that transactional email presents—you’re missing out.

We’ll explore how to develop transactional emails to upsell and cross-sell additional products to your new customers, increasing the lifetime value of each customer by significant margins.

Solid Mechanics

To begin with, all of the technical aspects of the email need to be rock solid.

For starters, use a sensible “from” email address. Do not go with a [email protected] type address, as that creates the perception that your brand doesn’t want to hear from its customers. And that is for sure the last kind of impression you want to form.


An example of a good email is [email protected] or [email protected]

Next up is good formatting. You want to ensure that your email is well-structured and looks pleasing to the eye. Also, remember to include a plain text version for those who have email clients that don’t process the different types of media (images, designs, links, etc.) your emails may use.

Remember that mobile is still king. Especially if you have a store app that customers use to purchase your products, a lot of the transactional email that you sent out to mobile customers will also be viewed on mobile. Thus, you want to be making sure that your emails look good no matter what the display.

Finally, for your multimedia emails, make sure that you create an attractive combination of images and text. Too much text can be a turnoff, but oversized images are often equally annoying. Find the ideal balance.

Relevance is Key


Now let’s get to the part that provides the benefit to your company: the products you’re trying to upsell/cross-sell.

Here, relevance is absolutely crucial. The products you include in the transactional emails must be related in some way to the order your customer just made. Promoting irrelevant products is probably the easiest way to get your customer to hit backspace to their inbox, leaving them with a bad taste.

Think about it. If you just ordered a new pair of headphones from Amazon, do you necessarily want to know more about the torque wrenches available at the e-store? Probably not.

If you got such an email from Amazon, you’d probably recognize the email for what it is: a blatant, poorly executed marketing tactic. And you’d dislike Amazon for it.

Think strategically when deciding what products to promote. If you just sold the customer a new fishing rod, maybe advertise a tackle box to go with it. If the customer just bought a new couch for her living room, try cross-selling a coffee table built in a similar color scheme.


Nail Timing and Frequency

One of the most challenging aspects of transactional email is finding the right balance between too much and too little emailing. Too many emails in too short a time frame, and your customers will start unsubscribing. Too few emails, and you won’t be able to build that regular connection you need to establish a good relationship with the customer.

Timing is another important aspect: you want to send your transactional emails pretty soon after the customer’s purchase. Obviously, order confirmation and shipping notification emails will already be timed, and any other emails you send should arrive within a one week window after the customer receives the purchase. Too much longer, and your customer will already start forgetting the original transaction.

Don’t Overdo it

Keep in mind the primary focus of transactional email: the actual transaction.


Don’t make the email all about the other products you’re trying to sell. Make sure that the primary objective of the email is clearly the order-related communication that the customer needs to know (e.g., shipping confirmation and tracking updates).

Add Social Share Opportunities

Not everything has to be about selling: there are other ways for you to benefit from transactional email apart from a secondary purchase from the customer. Incorporating social share buttons so that the customer can inform their networks about their latest purchase is a great way for you to get additional exposure.

This becomes doubly important when you consider that your customer’s network probably reaches many people that share his/her interests and traits (and are thus a goldmine of potential customers that already fit your company’s target audience).

Test, Test, Test


Last but not least, A/B testing will take your transactional emails from mediocre to insanely effective. You can’t expect to nail the right combination of product promotion, social sharing, and order-related communication right away.

As Ernest Hemingway himself said, the first draft of anything is rubbish. You have to find a balance, and the only way to do that is to test multiple email formats and styles to identify the highest-converting one.

Once you have a solid A/B testing plan in play, you’ll soon be leveraging one of the most powerful marketing channels—transactional email—at its maximum potential.

Elevation Marketing is a marketing agency serving midsized and larger brands.