Practical Ecommerce

The Power of Triggered Emails; 6 Examples

In the natural progression of most email programs, there comes a time when an ecommerce site is ready to tackle the power of triggered emails. Although a challenge to set up, they can be a crucial element in your overall marketing communications strategy, and for good reason. Triggered mailings have a proven track record of phenomenal response and conversion rates. For the overall email program of S&S Worldwide, my employer, 40 percent of all email-generated revenue comes from triggered and transactional-based emails that account for only 4 percent of the total email volume. That is an incredible return on investment.

6 Triggered Email Samples

But where do you begin, and what types of triggered emails may make sense for your site? Start with those emails that are easiest to create and most likely to convert, and then work your way up to more complicated and dynamically driven emails. Here are a few examples of triggered emails that may work for you.

  1. Welcome email. I am still surprised at how many sites do not implement an instant welcome email once someone subscribes to a newsletter. A welcome email is your site’s opportunity at a personal communication with the customers. Wow them with the benefits they’ll receive as subscribers, give them information on the frequency they can expect, contact information, and, possibly, a new subscriber bonus of some kind.

    Sample 'Welcome' email from S&S Worldwide.

    Sample ‘Welcome’ email from S&S Worldwide.

  2. Reorder or order reminder emails. Depending on your business model and frequency of customer orders, it may make sense to trigger a message based on the customer’s previous orders. For example, several of our customers tend to order similar products once every year. We send an email to them at the 11 month mark which includes all the information from their past orders, making it easy for them to see what it was they ordered and if they would be interested in ordering the same or similar products. This email is very effective for any replenishment-type product.

    Sample reorder reminder email from S&S Worldwide.

    Sample reorder reminder email from S&S Worldwide.

  3. Birthday or special-occasion emails. If it makes business sense for your site to capture subscribers’ birthdays, email them to say “happy birthday” and include a special offer. The logic here can also apply to any other date-driven event: An anniversary, a birth of a child, an upcoming vacation or holiday. Be creative and structure your promotions around the events happening in an individual’s life.

  4. Abandoned cart emails. This is one of the more powerful emails in a marketer’s tool box. Some ecommerce sites have been wary of sending abandoned-cart emails for fear the consumer may feel overly monitored. However, in practice most retailers find that the customers value the reminders as a great service. Once set up, abandoned cart emails can run automatically and they will help capture lost sales. Test the timing, message content and product offers in these emails to find the combination that best works for your site. For additional reading on abandoned cart emails, including how to implement them, see “Abandoned-Cart Remarketing Effective, Says Ecommerce Exec,” my recent interview with Practical eCommerce on that topic.

    Sample 'abandoned cart' email from S&S Worldwide.

    Sample ‘abandoned cart’ email from S&S Worldwide.

  5. Abandoned site browse or search. Using the same logic as abandon cart emails, abandon site browse or search is, essentially, the same type of communication, but the customer has not yet added anything to his or her cart. There are two methods to implement abandoned site emails. First, the visitor needs to be “cookied.” If he or she has clicked on any past email campaigns from the site and the email included a personalized email capture within the URL, you can capture the visitor’s email address every time they come back to the site (as long as cookies are still enabled). Second, if visitors are logged into their accounts, you will have the email addresses.

    Emphasizing the customer service aspect of this email is vital. Offering things such as live chat is you have it on your site. Customers here may have had problems finding exactly it was they were looking for, so a good strategy is to get them the help they need to find what they are looking for.

    Sample abandoned site email from S&S Worldwide.

    Sample abandoned site email from S&S Worldwide.

  6. Transactional emails. Transactional emails are a form of triggered email since they happen automatically following an online order. They provide an opportunity to create and maintain a lasting relationship and to encourage repeat purchases. Read more on transactional emails in my recent article, “5 Keys to Transactional Emails.”


Triggered emails should be a part of every ecommerce marketing toolbox. They offer real-time relevancy to customers that have increasingly grown to expect these communications. Implement the triggered emails that apply to your business and you will likely see some positive results.

Carolyn Nye

Carolyn Nye

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  1. cord December 8, 2010 Reply

    Hi carolyn,

    as a loyal follower of your articles about optimizing email communication I was happy to read about these examples.

    The trigger emails look like a quite logical thing to do but from my own experience and what I have heard from other store owners the implementation doesn’t appear to be easy. The "big players" in this solution area are too expensive for most businesses and building a solution on your own gets quickly very complicated

    We have been actually looking for a affordable solution for years and finally found a free Open Source addon "MailBeez" for osCommerce and other popular Open Source ecommerce engines like Zen Cart, CRE Loaded, DigiStore, osCMax and some others. The installation is uttermost easy and takes only a couple of minutes.

    "MailBeez" allows to build both trigger and transactional campaigns based on modules (so you can build up your trigger-based email strategy step-by-step). And there are already some important Campaign modules readymade like e.g. "ask for a review", "Winback – customer reactivation", "Recover Cart Sales" and some more.

    With putting a cronjob in place "MailBeez" runs automatically in the background and sends out daily a number of highly selected and personalized emails. Through the readymade integration with Google Analytics I can monitor the response (click-rate) together with my other campaigns.

    We can see that Mailbeez is significantly adding to our revenue, and as a small business frequently obsessed with gaining a percentage here and there, I would say it is an essential system for any online store.


  2. Carolyn Nye December 9, 2010 Reply

    Thanks again Cord! Really appreciate you tying together some real-life examples of easy solutions that can work for sites out there- especially ones that are good choices for small business on a tight budget. And glad it’s significantly adding to your revenue- looks like you’re doing a great job- thanks!

  3. Charles Nicholls December 9, 2010 Reply

    Hi Carolyn

    Great to see your article! This must elevate you to guru status in this field. :)

    When it comes to abandoned shopping cart and browse abandon emails, we’ve found that timing of these emails is important. It is clear that it is best to send an immediate email, because the message is much more relevant than something delayed by a day or more. Multiple studies have validated this: most recently an MIT one that found that 90% of ecommerce leads go cold within one hour. Having said this, there are still some luddites that maintain that ‘best practice’ is to send emails 3 days after.

    But as you correctly point out, tone is equally critical: a service tone works better and is appreciated by customers.

    Cort’s comment about it being more complex than it first looks s a good one. Building something from scratch tends to unmask complexities not immediately apparent. Getting out of step with the customer is one of the gotchas that make this more complex than it first looks.

    For example, if you have a delay of 24 hours before your email goes out, then you need to consider what happens if you mail a customer with an offer, and the customer has already bought at full price? When will you know that the customer has purchased? For many ecommerce sites this restricts the ability to do multi phase follow up campaigns, and this caps the return.

    The way to simplify things is to synchronize your customer activity tracking and triggering into one continuous real time process. This also gives you a ‘real time stop’ capability with gives you confidence that you are always in step with your customer, even with multi stage campaigns.

    One of the key points that many people forget when thinking about transactional email is that deliverability is just as important as with regular email campaigns. If I recall correctly, S&S use Silverpop’s real time transact API to do this ensuring very high deliverability. It’s easy to forget that the basics of getting the mail into the inbox, getting it opened, and read are just as important when thinking about the other aspects of making these types of campaigns fly. So one of the ‘success checklist’ items needs to be based around the Email Service Providers capabilities and credentials. Whitelisting is just as important for transactional as batch email.

    I wrote a blog on transactional email myself some month ago, and while not as pretty as yours (!) it may add some additional color to those reading this.

  4. Carolyn Nye December 10, 2010 Reply

    Hi Charles-

    As always- excellent points. Fabulous job filling in the gaps and addressing the more complex issues regarding these messages. We are using Silverpop real time transact API. We track back to both online & offline orders before sending an abandon cart email to ensure the customer has not completed the order.

    I 100% agree with you on the deliverabilty front as well, and the power of real-time messages. As with all email- getting it delivered effectively is the starting point. You’re blog post was great. Thanks so much for your insight!

  5. BrandLabs December 13, 2010 Reply

    While we’re entirely sure that commercial comments are frowned upon, we absolutely couldn’t resist chiming in here, since we’ve just launched autorespondermax(dot)com. It’s a fully-automated client outreach email solution for Volusion merchants… and we could go on and on, but in the interest of keeping with the non-commercial spirit of this public forum, we’ll end right here. Thanks!

  6. ErmolenkoAnton August 24, 2011 Reply

    Hi Carolyn

    I’m absolutely fascinated by the results you managed to achieve by using transactional emails. We are now rebuilding our store using magento cms. Do you happen to know any open source free add-ons which work with magento?