The Disconnect Between Transactional & Promotional Emails

Many major retailers do not send their transactional emails from the same email service provider (ESP) as their promotional emails. In fact, transactional emails are often delivered via an in-house solution or via the company’s e-commerce platform.shutterstock_158342063-disconnect

Brands cite a variety of reasons for this, including:

  1. Transactional and promotional emails typically originate from two distinct systems
  2. They are managed from two different departments (marketing and IT)
  3. It is “free” to send transactional emails from the current solution
  4. They don’t see a value proposition that justifies moving the transactional emails to the same system as the promotional emails

Regardless of what the reasoning is, there are plenty of good reasons to switch to an ESP for your transactional emails. I’ll explain why, and even discuss the benefits of using the same system for both transactional and promotional email efforts!


Deliverability is probably the most obvious reason your transaction emails should be sent via an ESP. Because ESPs manage sending for a much larger volume of emails, they have much more insight into active and inactive domains.

While I recommend consolidating your transactional and promotional emails to the same ESP, I also strongly recommend using separate IP addresses for the two types of emails. That way, if you encounter an issue with your promotional sending, your transactional email delivery will not be affected.

Transactional emails are critical for delivery to the inbox, so sending from a reputable provider is key. ESPs are able to maintain tighter relationships with email client providers (Gmail, Yahoo, etc.) than individual brands alone.

When migrating from in-house systems to ESPs, I have observed, on average, a 10%-20% decrease in list size due to deliverability cleansing. This is always surprising to the brand because a lot of effort has usually been invested in maintaining deliverability in-house — but inevitably, it is not as much as an ESP is able to dedicate.


Tracking is another key differentiator. Transactional emails are highly anticipated emails, and for that reason, tend to have very high open rates. Furthermore, some transactional emails or alerts are more critical than others, and if not opened, you may wish to trigger an SMS alert or have a customer service representative follow up with a phone call.

Email tracking data via in-house systems is typically far less robust than on an ESP, and in many cases, I have even observed where brands have no tracking data on their transactional emails at all.


Even though your message is transactional, you still have an opportunity to cross-sell your products. For example, by promoting related products in an order confirmation or shipment notification email, your transactional messages can become additional revenue-generators.

Just be sure to fully test your cross-promoted product section — in this example from Lands’ End, the same product is essentially being promoted three times, just in different sizes.

Lands End Shipment Notification Email

Stakeholders of transactional emails are often surprised to see these messages become revenue-drivers themselves because they follow so closely on the heels of another purchase.

Tracking of these transactional emails once again comes into play here because the data you gather can lead you to retargeting opportunities. The insight you gain as to what additional products or categories a user may have clicked on in a transactional message allows you to retarget those interests in a later promotional campaign, leading to further sales.


Promoting cross-sell products in transactional emails is only possible if the formatting supports more than text-only. I have observed many cases whereby transactional emails are not attractive, without images, branding, font treatments, etc.

By sending transactional messages via your ESP, you can take advantage of the same templates as promotional campaigns, delivering a consistent brand experience. This also allows for a better customer experience because the emails will display correctly on mobile devices.

For example, this experience from Athleta started out well, with the initial order confirmation email as well as the shipment notification email (see below) being formatted in HTML and offering additional shopping options. This email’s “From” address is and “From” name is “Athleta.”

Athleta Shipment Notification Email

However, not all transactional emails appear to be delivered via the same system, because a disconnect in the experience occurs when receiving the return notification email (below). The formatting is entirely text based, the “From” email address is, and there is not a friendly “From” name at all.

Athleta Return Notification


Delivering transactional and promotional messages from the same ESP means your data is more tightly integrated — a one-stop shop for customer insights. If your order confirmation emails are delivered via your ESP, you can immediately adjust the lifecycle promotional campaigns being delivered from the same system. If the customer returns the product, you can send a return receipt notification email and offer alternate products instead.

This type of content could have greatly improved the experience with Athleta, above, especially since easy returns is a benefit that is promoted so heavily by this brand. With tighter integration, engagement across every customer touchpoint is captured, enabling you to build a more complete profile and deliver a better customer experience.

Together At Last

Are your transactional emails delivered from a separate system than your promotional emails? Are you able to track these customer behaviors? Are they integrated into your promotional campaigns?

Often, this type of email is overlooked because the focus of email marketing is on the promotional sending; however, the high engagement with transactional messages, it is really important to focus on the appearance, timeliness and content of these emails. The opportunity for additional revenue as a result of the reasons mentioned above is a strong value proposition for migrating these messages.

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Marketing Land.

Related Topics: Channel: Email Marketing | Email Marketing | Email Marketing Column


About The Author: is Director of Digital Direct/eCRM at DEG, a full-service digital consultancy based in Kansas City. Leveraging her 14 years of experience and thought leadership in digital direct marketing, she and her team lead email and SMS strategy, integrations, and campaign execution for flagship brands like Crocs, Helzberg Diamonds, MathWorks, Cabela's, Life is Good, and TITLE Boxing. In her spare time she runs half marathons, cheers on her beloved Royals, and drinks copious amounts of coffee while trying to exhaust her eight year-old daughter, five year-old boy, and one year-old golden retriever.

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  • Jimmy Daly

    This post is so on point. I just published a post today with some examples of how to make transactional emails better:

    Such a huge opportunity considering how much people actually appreciate and engage with transactional emails.

  • Kelly Mangum

    Do you recommend using the same ‘from’ email address for both transactional and promotional emails even if they are coming from a different server?


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