Transactional emails, like order receipts, shipping confirmations, and “you’ve updated your password” notifications, don’t necessarily feel like marketing emails on the surface. After all, they aren’t like your big, product-packed sales announcements or content-rich newsletters; transactional emails are focused on the nuts-and-bolts of, well, a transaction.
However, every email interaction you have with a customer is a marketing opportunity, even if the marketing is more subtle than, say, an email promoting a bunch of new products or a 25 percent off site-wide sale. Transactional emails can be sales opportunities for your business if you approach them right. And since they perform really, really well—one study found transactional emails have double the open rates and triple the click-through rates of other emails—they present a lucrative opportunity for your WooCommerce store.
There is one major caveat, though. Transactional emails operate under a different set of rules than other emails. Because they’re emails that have been deemed essential for business purposes, they don’t require a customer opt-in. That means you can send them to every customer, even ones who’ve declined to receive your marketing emails. As a result, legally, transactional emails must focus primarily (or, in some jurisdictions like the EU, exclusively) on the transaction itself. Many of the techniques we’ll discuss in this article should still be legally safe across the board—however, if you have any questions or feel like your transactional emails might be treading into a promotional gray area, it’s best to consult with a lawyer to keep yourself protected.
In this article, we’re going to cover five subtle and not-so-subtle ways you can turn the normally mundane, business-focused transactional emails into opportunities to grow customer relationships, increase brand loyalty, and increase your sales in both the short and long term.
Turn transactional emails into opportunities
1. Cross-selling related products
As we said in the introduction, different jurisdictions have different regulations when it comes to explicit advertising in transactional emails. Under the U.S. CAN-SPAM Act, transactional emails can contain promotional content like cross-sells, recommended products, and coupons—as long as the “primary purpose” of the email is focused on the transaction.
And cross-sells in transactional emails are effective. A study found return confirmation emails with cross-sells brought in 82 percent more revenue than those without, order confirmations with cross-sells brought in 49 percent more, and shipping confirmations with cross-sells brought in nine percent more. (PDF)
It’s important, however, to remember the main purpose of the email: Deliver the crucial information about the transaction first, sell second. That’s the best way to serve your customers and to avoid turning them off by being too aggressive with your sales push.
Here’s an example of an order receipt from Etsy that does a little bit of cross-selling—but only after all of key info about the transaction is covered. The email starts with the order number, payment method, and shipping address. Then it shows the product ordered and the total. From there, it moves to customer service info (notes from the owner, ways to contact the owner, and info about their shop). And after all that… then the email cross-sells three other related products. The primary purpose of this email is the transaction, however, it still does a little bit of smart selling.
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2. Reinforce your branding
Customers get excited when they receive emails about a product they bought online—in fact, a study found that our excitement peaks when we receive an order confirmation. That means transactional emails are an excellent time to take advantage of the customer’s excitement—and connect your brand with that positive sentiment.
Use your logo and color scheme in your transactional emails to imprint your brand in the customer’s mind at a happy time. You should also try to use your brand’s voice wherever possible, which can help grow your relationship with the customer. For example, if you sell scarves, rather than a headline saying, “Your scarf has shipped,” you could say, “Your neck is about to get warmer.” Those little touches of personality and character can go a long way toward a customer’s sentiment about your brand.
Check out this shipping confirmation from Madewell. It uses the company’s logo and minimalist style and color scheme. And it uses the brand’s voice to inject some personality (“insert applause emoji here”).
3. Encourage sharing
Transactional emails often come at very exciting moments for customers. (Not every transactional email, of course—it’s hard to imagine anyone’s pumped to get an email saying “Your credit card on file has expired”—but certainly the ones related to order and shipping status.)
You can capitalize on that excitement by encouraging customers to share your product in that moment. Referrals from friends are very powerful for eCommerce stores. An average of 2.3 percent of all sales come from referrals, and people are four times more likely to make a purchase when they’re referred by a friend.
You can encourage customers to share on social media or by email—or, if you want to get even more advanced, you can point customers towards your referral program that incentivizes them to recommend your store and products to their friends.
Here’s a transactional email from Zulily that gently pushes a referral program. It’s at the bottom of the email, below all the crucial order details (and customer service info), but it offers a good incentive for sharing the brand with friends.
4. Offer a future deal
It’s crucial to turn one-time customers into repeat customers—the probability of selling to a new customer is five to 20 percent; the probability of selling to an existing customer is 60 to 70 percent. And repeat customers spend an average of 67 percent more than new customers. One of the best ways to get a customer to come back is by offering a special discount; a survey found three-quarters of people say a discount is a top factor when they’re deciding to buy.
However, you should pick the right time to offer a discount. It’s probably not best to send right when the customer ordered something—especially if they paid full price. Discounts can work best in transactional emails like shipping confirmations. Here’s an example of a dynamic coupon code we inserted with Jilt for a shipping notification email.
Transactional emails can also be a good opportunity to encourage a customer to register for a loyalty or VIP program. You can even show the customer a progress bar, demonstrating that if they registered, they’d already be on their way toward a reward based on this transaction. VIP programs are win-win: Customers feel incentivized and rewarded for their loyalty, and you reap the benefits of them coming back to your store to spend money on a more frequent basis.
5. Build loyalty through demonstrations of customer service
Even if you don’t do any explicit selling in your transactional emails, they can still bring in long-term revenue by strengthening customer loyalty. One excellent way to engender that loyalty is through a clear demonstration of customer service.
You can use your transactional emails as a chance to make sure the customer was completely satisfied by the transaction—and take care of them every step of the way. Make it easy for them to track their package by including tracking links on shipping confirmations. Share customer service options so it’s easy for them to reach out if something in their order was wrong. Restate your returns policy to eliminate any ambiguity. And if there’s a problem with an order, address it and lay out every possible solution and remedy.
Here’s a subscription renewal email from NBA League Pass that focuses on making every aspect of the transaction as clear as possible to the customer. It lays out the price change, the year-to-year differences in the subscription gives a direct link to cancel, and offers customer support. By laying out every detail, it builds trust and confidence with the customer.
How to get started on turning your transactional emails into sales opportunities
To review, transactional emails are primarily focused on the details of a transaction or other crucial business functions. However, since they’re some of the most-opened emails and most exciting emails a customer received, they provide a great sales opportunity, as well—just be sure to keep on the right side of the law in your jurisdiction.
- Cross-sell related products. The stats show that a few cross-sells in transactional emails can bring in lots of revenue from returning customers.
- Reinforce your branding. Use your logo, colors, and voice to grow your relationship with a customer—and have them associate your brand with the excitement they feel about an order coming their way.
- Encourage sharing. Capitalize on customers’ excitement over their purchase by encouraging them to refer your store or products to their friends.
- Offer a future deal. Use your transactional emails as a chance to offer customers a deal or membership to a VIP program to keep them coming back to your store.
- Show off your customer service. Even though it might not translate to immediate sales, by demonstrating your commitment to customer service in your transactional emails, it can build brand loyalty to keep customers coming back in the future.
So, how do you get started on turning your transactional emails into opportunities to sell?
You can make some minimal changes to the built-in order emails in WooCommerce by navigating to WooCommerce > Settings > Emails > Email Sender Options in WordPress. From there you can do things like add a header image, change colors and fonts, update the footer text, and use a new “From” name.
You can also go into each individual email that WooCommerce can send and customize the subject and heading text individually.
However, if you want to get fancier and replace the entire template with something more on-brand for your store, you’ll have to write custom code. Each email has its own template where you can customize message contents, and you can override the global “email-styles.php” template to change the design of all emails.
But even if you’re comfortable playing around with PHP files and writing your own CSS, customizing templates in this way will never give you as many options as using a hosted email marketing platform that integrates with WooCommerce, like the one I cofounded, Jilt.
Jilt an all-in-one email marketing platform designed to meet the specific needs of WooCommerce stores, which can make it super easy to get going on all of the techniques we’ve described above.
You can use our pre-built templates set up transactional emails that feature things like dynamic cross-sells and automatically-generated unique coupon codes, and use our email editor to add things like your logo, colors, and other branding. And Jilt sends them out automatically—so after you set up the templates once, the app will take it from there.
Further, by using a platform like Jilt, you’ll get segmentation and personalization options that you can’t replicate by customizing the built-in templates in WooCommerce. For example, you could send a different order receipt—automatically— to customers based on things like which products they purchased, where they live, or the size of the order.
Check out Jilt for WooCommerce, and you’ll be up and running in 5 minutes or less without the need to mess around with any WooCommerce template code.
Max Rice is the co-founder and CEO of eCommerce email marketing platform Jilt. He started his career in eCommerce over a decade ago and writes regularly about running an online store on the Jilt blog.