Practical Ecommerce

Trigger-Based Email Marketing Improves Sales and Customer Experience

Trigger marketing is the next step for the critical ecommerce function of automated email communications. While traditional automated emails follow newsletter sign-ups and orders, trigger marketing sends emails for other events such as particular search patterns, customer birthdays, holidays, or related products.

“No matter what the ecommerce niche or industry, we all do too many jobs and we all need to get more relevant to when we touch into the lives of our consumer,” says Dylan Boyd, vice president of sales and strategy for eROI, an email marketing and interactive agency in Portland, Ore. “That’s what trigger email is all about.”

Dylan Boyd, eROI

Dylan Boyd, eROI

Venders Are Working to Make Trigger Marketing Easier

There are multitudes of email-marketing service and software suppliers, providing online-registration, database maintenance, and automated emails. Even web hosts and contact management software such as Microsoft Outlook and Mozilla Thunderbird offer this function. For trigger marketers however, the ideal solution taps directly into shopping cart and web analytic software to trigger automated contacts for events ranging from cart abandonment to shopping club renewals. Only a few dozen email service providers tie into both analytics and cart systems, including ExactTarget, StrongMail and Bronto.

“A well-defined trigger-based program can create a significant return,” says Sally Lowery, online marketing manager for Bronto Software, whose clients include,, and “Our customers have definitely seen a more significant return on investment when they do very personalized trigger marketing, then when they don’t. It makes sense. Site shoppers are receiving a one-to-one marketing campaign rather than a mass campaign, and they’re taking action on it.”

Lowery bundles trigger marketing into three categories: transactional triggers such as purchases and downloads, recurring triggers such as renewals and birthdays, and threshold triggers such as V.I.P. purchase levels or credit card declines.

“If you already have a current email program, you can automate a lot of it,” Lowery says. “If you don’t, at the least create a campaign where every time someone joins or purchases they get a welcome message immediately. If you don’t have a trigger-based system, this is how you can benefit from it immediately.”

At ExactTarget, Scott Roth—its director of product marketing and the executive who oversees ExactTarget’s automation features—sees both immediate and long-term benefits for e-merchants launching trigger marketing campaigns.

“We helped, which sells commemorative coins via late-night television and its website, set up a connection between our automated email responder and its Omniture [SiteCatalyst] web analytics software,” Roth says. “They saw an immediate uplift return, plus an additional half million in revenue over the first year of running this program.”

Just by taking products left in shopping carts, and reaching back to promote the sale of those products, saw a 100 percent increase in site revenue. Site visits converting to sales also went up 1 percent across the board.

So whether messages are triggered by analytics, rules, customization, purchases, views, downloads or the plethora of other initiated actions, “we could create 30 different buckets of things into what trigger marketing is,” says Boyd at eROI. “But it’s based on an action having been taken, whether on your part or theirs. It’s a choice.

But running a sophisticated trigger marketing campaign isn’t all fun and games. Roth has this fair warning: “What we do at ExactTarget is preference-driven marketing, where the customer tells you what they’re interested in; the other side of trigger marketing is using the analytics data to observe behavior and initiate a contact related to that. Either way, you’ll need the permission from your subscribers to reach out to them this way. Consequently, your trigger communications may be limited to only a certain segment of your site who says ‘yes,’ but you’ll get much more return from those individuals that other visitors to your site.”

In the end, does trigger marketing make a difference? “Of course,” says Boyd. “Simpler is better in almost everything in life. And, really, it’s down the path of frequency and frequency optimization. As e-merchants, watching out for our bottom line, we want to talk to our customers exactly when they need us to.” And that is what trigger marketing does.


Jennifer D. Meacham

Jennifer D. Meacham

Bio   •   RSS Feed


Sign up for our email newsletter

  1. Rolv E. Heggenhougen October 2, 2008 Reply

    eMail marketing is VERY effective yet it is always mass emails and often come from “do-not-reply” addresses. These emails also arrive with a red x where there are pictures and then the recipient must right-click to download – this is where over 50% are lost as people hit the delete button.
    Seems like WrapMail is the only company that seamlessly focuses on the REGULAR external emails we all send every day:
    You have a website.
    You send emails.
    WrapMail, without installing anything on any desktop or cell phone facilitates:
    Every email becomes a showpiece for the organization.
    Every employee becomes a marketer.
    No other marketing or advertising medium is as targeted as an email between people that know each other (as opposed to mass emails). These emails are always read and typically kept.
    WrapMail turns your everyday email into a branding and research tool (yes, the system reports who is clicking on what and when) for your business at a cost of $5 per user per month. That includes the WrapMaker™ where clients make their own wraps.
    And……..WrapMail’s show up WITHOUT the red x and message to download images!

  2. JeffK October 27, 2008 Reply

    Those are some great points. Messages are much more effective when they’re sent to relevant customers who are interested in your product or service. Some customers might find it a little intrusive, but overall, it’s an effective way to conduct business.

    Jeff Kempf, marketing intern at

  3. capenj December 3, 2008 Reply

    It’s funny ESPs are so behind, it’s not trigger marketing thats next. It’s transactional marketing. I just got my activation email from practicalecommerce – an email that I was waiting for, hitting the send/receive button to get it even. And all that was in it was the activation link. You should be marketing in that email since I’m sure it gets an open rate of over 80%!?

    Neil Capel
    CEO – – With A/B/… Testing of transactional emails

  4. Jennifer D. Meacham January 7, 2009 Reply

    Good feedback to consider. Email marketing, whether trigger, transactional or otherwise, should indeed be sent in ways that will not only visual appeal to readers but also encourage site interaction. As Jeff eloquently says, "Messages are much more effective when they’re sent to relevant customers who are interested in your product or service."

  5. cord June 17, 2010 Reply

    I really like the idea of trigger based email campaigns, but when it comes to make it real it somewhat gets complicated or expensive or both.

    Since I run my business on osCommerce I was very happy to find the free addon "MailBeez" which allows to build trigger 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.

    I was able to implement my trigger-based campaigns within a couple of hours and got already very good response rates (e.g. 10% of customers write a product review)

    MailBeez is supporting osCommerce, ZenCart, CRELoad, OSCMax and probably almost any system based on the roots of osCommerce.