Read Time: 8 min

4 Ways to Optimize Your Transactional Emails


Transactional emails range widely from receipts to shipping confirmations and everything in between. Marketers often write off these kinds of emails as boring or blah—but they’re a golden opportunity to provide hyper-relevant information and still maintain the style of your brand.

Transactional emails don’t have to be boring or complicated. Here’s our tips on making the most out of these messages so you can provide the best customer experience.

Defining “Transactional” Emails

Transactional emails are 1-to-1 emails sent to facilitate or confirm an action taken by someone. Because of the highly personalized and timely nature of transactional email, marketers have seized the opportunity afforded by these types of messages, blurring the lines between transactional and commercial. As a result, there’s a ton of gray area about what constitutes a strictly transactional email, especially with vague legal guidelines in the U.S.

Generally, marketers follow the 80/20 rule when it comes to transactional emails, meaning that 80% of the content in the email relates to the facilitation or confirmation of the action, and the remaining 20% of content can be used for promotional purposes, such as an upsell or cross-sell. Definitions of transactional email can also vary by country, with corresponding regulations to boot.

Both subscribers and non-subscribers receive transactional emails—and they don’t need to contain an unsubscribe link. They’re receiving your email because they need to, not because they want to. For instance, an email confirming a reservation for a hotel doesn’t include an opportunity to opt-out because the message is critical to the action they have taken. Other examples of transactional emails include:

  • Purchase receipts
  • Shipping notifications
  • Booking or registration confirmations
  • Support requests
  • Password reset requests
  • Legal notices and policy updates
  • Transactional emails, along with other kinds of triggered emails, have a reputation for being “set it and forget it” programs, but they should be anything but. Regularly improving and optimizing these emails can ensure that you’re making the most out of every communication you send—no matter how boring it may seem on the surface.

    Transactional email templates

    Litmus Community Templates have a wide-array of pre-tested template options that serve a variety of communications—including transactional emails.

    Access the templates →


    Put Yourself In Your User’s Shoes

    “The main thing to keep in mind is to make the user’s job easier.”—Beth Dunn

    We talk about this time and time again in marketing: know your audience. For transactional emails, understanding where they are in your buyer’s journey, what kind of information you’re providing, and how you can help them quickly and effectively are all bedrocks of a great transactional email. Also consider where they are in their day when they’re opening this email, and why.

    Context is key, too. With the majority of opens happening on mobile, optimizing your email for where your subscribers will be opening (and how) makes a big difference. Consider a last-minute flight change. You’re not going to be on a desktop computer in either of those situations, but the information is critical and needs to be received immediately.

    This last minute notification from an airline couldn’t be more important, but since it’s not optimized for mobile, it will only leave your user scrambling in an airport. You can barely read the time changes to see what’s been crossed out, and since iOS automatically adds blue links into calendar-related text, it’s all a jumble.


    Most importantly: get to the point. A transactional email shouldn’t drag on and on and on. Give the subscriber the information they need, and then let them do their thing!

    Screen Shot 2016-06-03 at 9.17.04 AM

    Get Creative With Copy & Design

    When someone orders your product, you want them to be excited—to think, “It’s coming soon! And it’s mine!” Boom—there’s your opportunity to shine (no exclamation points required.)

    To see the full email (and animation) check out Litmus Scope:
    To see the full email (and animation) check out Litmus Scope.

    Take this example from Boden. They’ve heard the purchaser “loud and clear,” and use eye-catching animations to turn an otherwise blah confirmation email into something greater.

    They key is balancing the creative elements with real information. Getting caught up in the email creative can cause confusion—where’s that confirmation number again?—and make it more difficult for your subscriber to find critical information or details.

    Weave your brand elements throughout the email as this one does from Lilly Pulitzer. It stays straight to the point, provides information right away, but looks like it could have been a handwritten note from the store. It also adds just the right touch of excitement: “Lucky you–you ordered Lilly today!” Cue the subscriber counting down the days till the package gets to the door.

    Screen Shot 2016-06-03 at 9.23.25 AM

    Be Supportive, Not Salesy

    Transactional emails present a huge opportunity for marketers because subscribers open them at a higher rate than typical marketing messages. These communications are critical and extremely relevant to those receiving your email. Because people open and engage with them more, you have the opportunity to take them a step further than just confirming the success of a transaction.

    In any email, you want to make sure you’re supportive, not salesy. Remember: you still have to get to the point as quickly as possible, since this isn’t just relevant information, it’s critical.

    There are a few ways to include upsell or cross-sell without being “salesy.” Instead, focus on being helpful:

    Build a supportive buyer’s journey

    Send transactional emails that correlate well with your buyer’s journey. This works particularly well in the hospitality or travel industry, but can work for other products, too. If you’re about to head out on a cruise, an email about accessing services on board, booking dining reservations, or adding additional trips and outings to your original package along with your reservation information can generate excitement without feeling like a sell.


    To do this, you should map out your entire buyer’s journey. At what point would they need or want more information from you? How can you make their purchase path smoother? Whether or not you’re in the hospitality business, imagining your product as an experience—before, during, and after—will help frame your transactional email campaigns.

    Use personalization and recommendations

    Things get a little grayer when it comes to recommendations, but if used carefully, they can make a strong impact.

    When someone purchases from you, you learn something about them. Whether that’s what color dress they prefer or what time of year they like to travel, don’t throw that information away. Use personalized recommendations to cross-sell your additional products and services.

    Tread carefully, however, and follow the 80/20 rule—80% transactional, 20% promotional. Keep in mind your audience’s location, too, since spam guidelines vary from country to country. For instance, Canada and Germany, in most cases, don’t allow promotional content in a transactional email. If your audience is more global, you can use segmentation by country to be sure you comply with regulations, or send different versions of your email to purchasers who have opted-in to your promotional emails versus those who have not.

    Amazon is the king of this kind of personalization:

    Screen Shot 2016-06-07 at 5.05.03 PM

    If you’re going to go for it, determine what kind of bundling should occur with your products and what solves a particular problem for your customer. If they purchased a computer, for instance, perhaps they’re looking for a charger, carrying case, and an anti-glare screen, too. This creates an upsell opportunity while keeping the email relevant and focused on the transaction that just occurred.

    Transactional emails are so often overlooked—but with a little optimization and a bit of polish, you can turn them into gold. What do you think? What challenges do you see making great transactional emails? Chime in on community.

    Build Your Own Amazing Transactional Email…Or Use Ours!

    If you’re looking for templates to use as the basis for your transactional emails, the Litmus Community now features modern, easy-to-use templates built by industry veterans. Find the perfect template for receipts, shipping notifications, and everything in between.

    Explore our free templates →

Kayla Voigt

Kayla Voigt

Kayla Voigt is a freelance writer