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E-mail Secrets & Lies: Transactional e-mails

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All transactional e-mails are not created equal, according to Experian Marketing Services' latest white paper, “The Transactional E-mail Report,” released this week. The white paper is based on analysis of more than 1,800 transactional e-mails—order, shipping and return/exchange confirmations—as compared with mass bulk promotions deployed by the same 35 businesses from March 2009 to February 2010. Researchers uncovered several key points, including the fact that response rates for transactional e-mails can vary widely. When done correctly, however, said Sara Ezrin, the company's senior director of strategic services, transactional e-mails are a smart way to boost revenue and customer loyalty.

“Marketers aren't fully paying attention to how they can optimize transactional e-mails on an ongoing basis,” she said. “They should be looking at them frequently and thinking of adding things like recommendation engines or using simple submission: where you can, when someone clicks on a link, automatically log someone into their account on your site.”

Another interesting finding of the white paper: Those transactional e-mails that included links to a company's social media account had 55% better click-through rates than those that did not. There were some other surprises, too. Ezrin and Shelley Kesler, an e-mail marketing analyst at e-mail service provider Experian CheetahMail, reveal one little-known secret and expose one widely believed “lie” about transactional e-mails.

Secret: Links versus text can boost your transaction rate..

Sure, you could send a simple, text-based confirmation e-mail that shows what someone has purchased, how much they paid and how they can get in touch with a salesperson; but, by doing so, you're missing out on potential revenue, Kesler said. An HTML-based message that contains links to the same information might be better, she said.

“We found that having links that included order tracking provided double the click rates and 23% higher transaction rates than confirmations that did not offer customers that same ability,” she said.

The reason for the higher transaction rates may be because the easier something is to do, the more comfortable and trusting the customer becomes, Kesler said.

Lie: You should include discounts or specials in every transactional mail.

It might seem like a good idea: Send customers who recently purchased something a coupon code or special offer and they will be more likely to buy something else, right? Wrong, Kesler said. “Order and shipping confirmations without special discounts or offers in them had slightly higher transaction rates than those that had them,” she said.

In fact, those order and shipping confirmations that went out without special deals actually had 11% better transaction rates than those that had offers. Yes, cross-selling works, Ezrin said, but you don't have to discount what you're selling. As long as it's relevant, customers may make another purchase.

“You can have a secondary navigation along the left or right side of the e-mail … to offer up additional products that are tied to their original purchase,” Ezrin said. “For b-to-b, you might also want to include a Contact a Sales Rep link to make it easier for them to buy.”

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