Original Posting in May 2008, issue of ThinData’s Email Strategies.

As a national retailer, we send out large volumes of email to our customers to confirm purchases or account modifications that they have made while using our online store. We want to make sure that we are respectful of our customers while using these emails as an opportunity for promotion. Can you provide any recommendations – particularly since we plan to dramatically increase our use of email over the next few months?

Our Expert’s Answer:
Your issue is one that every business that conducts commerce online needs to address.

There are two major types of email – commercial and transactional. Commercial email has one purpose: promotion of brand and/or products. In contrast, transactional-focused emails are far more complex. Most commonly, transactional emails are used to: welcome new registrants or customers, confirm transactions, provide notification of shipment and outline return policies. In short, this type of email supports a critical part of your relationship with customers – they provide confidence and build trust in your brand.

There are guidelines for transactional email that you should follow – because it demonstrates a respect for your customers and for reasons of complying with industry legislation (e.g. CAN-SPAM). Here are the key rules for transactional emails:

  1. 80% of the content, imagery and space of a transactional email should serve to support a previous or pending transaction – rather than be promotional.

  2. Marketing content should be below the fold – and clearly set apart from the transactional information.

  3. Marketing offers presented should be somehow related to the transaction. For example, if the transaction is a purchase of an iPod, the marketing content could highlight relevant guarantees, product support or iPod accessories.

  4. Use subject lines that clearly identify the email as transactional. For example, “Confirming Your Purchase of…”

  5. If more than 20% of the email’s content, imagery or space is used for promotional purposes, you must include an “unsubscribe” option that will be honoured. Keep in-mind that if you do this, you run the risk of losing contact with a purchasing customer.

Follow these rules and your transactional emails will serve your brand and marketing objectives well.