Promotional vs. Transactional 

 November 30, 2022

By  HiFlyer

This ecommerce strategy article is an excerpt from our new book, The Ultimate Ecommerce Email & SMS Playbook. We’re diving into our ecommerce strategy chapter focused on the 7 Reasons Why Ecommerce Customers Leave Your Brand.

Most likely, you’ve heard from your IT team or your ESP vendor that you need to separate your transactional and promotional emails. But what does it mean to separate your emails? Which emails qualify for separation? And is this truly a necessary step?

Before we go too far, let’s define what the differences are and how they play a role in email marketing. You can lump most email messages into two camps—promotional and transactional. Here’s what we mean when we use these terms.

Promotional emails

A promotional email (also called a batch mailing, BAU email, broadcast, or bulk email) is an email that is sent to more than one person that contains the exact same content and is not triggered by an event. A promotional email would be anything a customer did not specifically trigger, for example, a weekly newsletter, a marketing email, or an announcement about your site’s recent updates.

Transactional emails

Transactional emails are emails that the customer triggers. An order confirmation email after a customer places an order, an alert email a customer has set up in your app, and an account signup email  all qualify as transactional emails. 

Remember when I mentioned that I need things explained to me like a five-year-old sometimes? This is how I’d explain promotional vs. transactional to a five-year-old: a transactional email is an email that a customer EXPECTS to receive while a promotional email isn’t. 

A lost password email, order confirmation email, notify me when in stock email, and an account signup email are examples of emails that someone expects to receive. They’ve opted to “trigger” this email and expect that email in their inbox. 

A promotional email is an email that one doesn’t necessarily expect. A sale email, last chance promo email, or cart abandon email isn’t always expected. Yes, they’ve opted in to hear from you, yet these are more sales-oriented. For that reason, these are considered promotional emails. 

There are definitely gray areas. Take a review solicitation email, for example; it’s related to your transaction, but the review submission goal is closer to promotional. As such, you may need to define what these mean to your business and measure how customers react to each type of email. 

Because transactional emails are expected while promotional emails aren’t always, promotional emails have lower engagement rates. Average open rates for promotional campaigns hover between 10-20%. That’s much lower than the 70% open rates that are typical for transactional emails. Engagement impacts sender reputation, and you wouldn’t want lower engagement on batch emails to affect the delivery of critical transactional messages.

I won’t go into all the specifics of how to optimize your promotional or transactional emails in this chapter – such as subdomains, IP address, new email address, etc. – as this is just an explanation of the differences between the two types of emails. In a later chapter, I’ll share some of the revenue opportunities that exist within transactional emails.

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