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Paola Bergamini
20 July 2021
Reading time: 6 min.

Transactional emails and SMS: a full guide of the top performing messages

Every year, transactional emails get one of the highest open and click rates in the Email Marketing world. They’re among the top sending tools. Here, we’ll guide you through the best practices, advice, and techniques for using these messages.

What are transactional emails? In case you’re unfamiliar with the term, don’t worry: this guide is meant to offer you a complete learning path on this mailing typology.

Let’s check out what it means, the advantages, best practices, and case studies by sector. We’ll discover and understand everything that makes the most out of this essential Email Marketing tool that drives the users on their customer journey from the welcome phase to post-purchase.

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What are transactional emails?

Transactional emails are notifications (often automatic) associated with the users’ transaction, i.e. the action that has triggered them. These provide users with a series of details related to the action just carried out, such as the order number, delivery address, time and date of appointment, new password, etc. Accordingly, they include all the emails and text messages that communicate:

  • confirmation of order or appointment;
  • shipment;
  • forthcoming expiration of a trial or account;
  • password recovery, and
  • abandoned cart.

The benefits of transactional emails

These messages benefit every type of business. To understand this, just open your mailbox and see how many and how different transactional messages are out there. In fact, without this type of sending, many of our customary digital behaviors could not be accomplished. In some cases, they couldn’t even start. Just think of online purchases with no receipt and no traceability; irrecoverable passwords; expired accounts, and renewed services without notice.

By their very nature and notification purpose, transactional messages record the highest absolute values for openings, clicks, and interactions each year, also according to the data of the latest editions of the Statistical Observatory.

Given their strong relevance, it’s no surprise that these messages have some of the highest engagement potential. Rates fluctuate between 20% and 50% for around 32% of companies (according to the SparkPost report).

The main types of transactional emails

Welcome email

Welcome emails present the brand to the user. They’re the type of transactional email most used by companies as a tool to achieve different purposes:

  • brand awareness by inserting their own Unique Value Proposition or a roundup of their best-selling products;
  • education by anticipating a subsequent series of onboarding emails;
  • conversion boost by offering welcome promotions;
  • sales increase via upselling and cross-selling strategies, and
  • quality database building via the double opt-in registration method and an address confirmation request.
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Case studies by sector

  • Retail uses them as showcases to provide a preview of leading products or as a sales booster through the offer of discount codes.
  • The SaaS sector leverages on them as an excellent tool for educating and illustrating the functionality of a software or platform.
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  • In the Nonprofit sector, they serve to detail the mission and values of the organizationconvey the identity of the brand, and create a first relationship with the user.

Order and shipment confirmation emails

This type includes all the purchase confirmation, order receipt, and shipment notification messages that reach users when they’re most receptive, i.e. just after a purchase. That’s why they record opening rates of up to 42.51% and interaction rates of up to 18.27% (Source: Remarkety). So they represent an excellent means to relaunch or integrate the offer and increase the probability of sales through referral marketing strategies, like in this case:

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Case studies by sector

  • The Retail sector makes the biggest use of these messages due to their very nature.
  • The Travel sector handles them both for booking confirmations and relaunching offers (e.g. additional insurance policies, travel conditions upgrades, etc.).
  • The Food & beverage sector has made order and shipment confirmations one of the best performing sendings of 2020 thanks to the booming of delivery.
  • In the Nonprofit sector, on the other hand, a simple email confirming the donation can become a tool to consolidate the donor’s trust.
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Abandoned cart email

According to Statista, the abandoned cart rate reached 88% during 2020: nearly 9 out of 10 people looked for products but didn’t finalize their purchase. These emails stimulate an interest that the user has already explicitly expressed. Thus they represent one of the most profitable Email and SMS Marketing strategies with open and click rates of 45% and 21% respectively, as well as a number of post-dispatch conversions equal to 50% (Source: Moosend).

Their potential can be tapped in a number of ways: drive conversion, increase sales, drive inactive leads, upselling, and so on.

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Case studies by sector

  • Given their very nature, these emails perfectly fit Retail and e-commerce. Once again, their job is about notifying clients and increasing sales.
  • The Travel sector also resorts to them for re-proposing content to users on the basis of their browsing behavior. They may invite them to finalize the booking with discounts and limited offers, as in this case:
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Account update email

These are all those more bureaucratic transactional mailings related to the management of a personal account, such as expiration reminders, notification for the end of a trial, password reset, and login confirmation from another device. As they’re linked to a private account and bring personal data and information, they’re extremely relevant to the user and, therefore, their opening is almost always guaranteed. 

They can be used for several purposes:

  • account security and privacy as in the case of login confirmation emails from another device;
  • increase in sales as in the case of a trial period ending reminder;
  • re-engagement of inactive contacts, e.g. when emails reconnect with lost users after the trial period, and
  • upselling through service renewal reminders.

Case studies by sector

  • SaaS companies take advantage of accounts’ or trials’ expiration reminders for re-engaging inactive contacts or strategizing a sales increase;
  • Retail uses them to incentivize purchases by reporting on accumulated points and offering the possibility to move to the next membership level if a purchase is finalized, and
  • the Travel sector can use these transactional emails with a similar logic, inviting the user not to lose the points of his account and to complete a purchase to get a discount on a future trip.
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Transactional text messages: examples and case studies

Just like emails, transactional text messages also aim above all to notify customers. However, it’s common to mistake them with mere bureaucratic messages. In fact, their role goes far beyond pure operation because they contribute to not only a fluid customer experience but also to:

  • satisfy the client’s need for reassurance on the transactions;
  • accompany the customer journey throughout all the touchpoints, and
  • consolidate the relationship of trust, transmitting a sense of efficiency, transparency, and professionalism.

How to use transactional text messages

Transactional text messages belong to one-to-one sendings. They’re characterized by the presence of unique fields linked to the specific behavior of each customer (e.g. the order number, the time of an appointment or an event, the address delivery, and so on). The main types of transactional text messages include:

  • order confirmation and update messages These are useful to notify the user that the purchase is complete and has been taken in charge, or to communicate any unexpected events or updates relating to the transaction.
  • shipment notification messages These transmit information on the date, address, and delivery time.
  • notice messages These relate to businesses known as “bricks-and-clicks”, i.e. commercial activities that involve online or in-store orders with collection at the physical point of sale.
  • password reset messages These send new account access keys.
  • code messages for the 2-factor authentication system These are all those texts with a code to be entered as access identification into an account or for concluding an operation.

How to create a transactional email: tools for effective automatic campaigns

Marketing automation

When the goal is to send the right message to the right contact at the right time, the best tool is undoubtedly Marketing Automation. It allows for sending campaigns in a fully automatic way after a “trigger event.”

Take these key steps to set automatic workflows:

  • define the starting condition that activates the workflow;
  • create the messages that will compose this flow;
  • define the sending order and frequency, and
  • set any specific restrictions for specific contact groups or times and dates (e.g. by choosing some non-disturbance timeframes).

These steps becomes much easier and more intuitive if you rely on professional sending platforms that make Automation tools available to everyone. MailUp, for example, facilitates these operations by giving the possibility to choose preconfigured workflow models. It guides you in setting up automatic campaigns with no special skills needed.


Another decisive tool will help you set up transactional mailings that aren’t just automatic but also secure and with guaranteed delivery rates. This is an integrable mail server, such as the SMTP+ service made available by MailUp.

Now, why is it important to use a service like SMTP+? The answer is simple: SMTP servers are associated with the main providers that private citizens and brands with e-commerce or CRM systems use for their sendings. They’re based on unmonitored IP. This means that when we send our emails we risk sharing the same IP of a spammer, thus jeopardizing our deliverability. 

Services such as SMTP+ guarantee companies full security and high delivery rates while they track sendings. Furthermore, these SMTP relay services integrate with e-commerce, CRM, and CMS systems. Hence, all the transactional messages that accompany the user in his/her purchase path are protected from the risks of non-delivery and spam.


Transactional messages are among the most profitable, performing, and effective Email and text message marketing tools in increasing the engagement of recipients and sales. However, they’re not the only one. Discover the numerous features of MailUp and the endless advantages of all other types of emails and text messages to grow your business. Request a free, no-obligation trial of the platform.

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Paola Bergamini

I was born in 1993 in Como and I escaped from this little town to study in Milan, where I graduated in 2017 in philosophy. I've always been interested in marketing and communication and I love writing and reading. As Content Editor at MailUp, I try to keep up to date with Email and Digital Marketing news, in order to share trends, theories and tools about this constantly evolving sector.

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