Transactional Email vs Marketing Emails for WooCommerce: What You Need to Know

August 8, 2022

Transactional Email vs Marketing Emails for WooCommerce: What You Need to Know

If you want to run a successful e-commerce business in the current online environment, you must have reliable email communications with your customers. The vast majority of people have phones with internet access, which means that they are always accessible via email. At the same time, you need to make sure that you maximize the benefits of your email communication.

Even though you are probably familiar with marketing emails, and have had some success with them, you also need to think about transactional emails. What are the differences between transactional emails and marketing emails? Take a look at a few important points below, and make sure you rely on the right email services to help you get the most out of your email communications with online customers.

Email Marketing

What is the difference between transactional emails and marketing emails?

First, it is important to quickly define the two types of emails we are talking about. These are:

Transactional Emails

A transactional email is an email message that you will send to a customer that contains information that is unique to him or her, is not explicitly commercial, and is event-driven. Typically, a transactional email is triggered by an action that a user takes while visiting a website on their phone or computer.

Sometimes, transactional emails are purely informational. For example, you might receive a member rewards statement from an e-commerce website you are a member of. Or, a transactional email can be triggered by an interaction, such as a password reset request. 

Since transactional emails are not mass marketed emails, they do not typically require compliance with existing email spam laws like users having to ‘opt-in’ or being able to ‘opt-out’ of receiving such transactional emails.  Furthermore, since transactional emails are functional and immediately relevant to end users, their email open rates are typically much higher.

Marketing Emails

The other type of email is called a marketing email or mass (bulk) email. Sometimes, it is referred to as a commercial email because it contains promotional content about your product and services or other businesses you are associated with. The goal of the marketing email is to make sure your business remains at the front of the mind of your potential customers or clients while also encouraging them to make a purchase. 

For example, you might use a marketing email to encourage someone to view information about a new product or service you are offering. Typically, businesses will schedule marketing emails to be delivered at a specific time to individuals who have opted in to receive more information via your website or application.  Or a campaign of multiple emails sent to a user, ie, a ‘drip campaign’, might be triggered based on a user action such as purchasing a specific product or downloading a how-to guide.

Marketing emails are required to meet spam laws and depending on the user’s location, this could mean a plethora of things.  For example, in one country, a user may be presented a checkbox with their ‘opt-in’ consent set by default whereas, in other countries, automatic checking the checkbox is against the law.  Similarly, some governing bodies require double opt-in where a user not only has to check a box to give consent initially, but also must receive an email from the marketing email platform and click a verification link sent to verify they did indeed opt-in to such marketing emails.  Make sure to know your legal requirements for meeting spam laws in any country in which you are selling your online products.

What are examples of transactional emails?

There are several examples of transactional emails that you may have encountered in the past. These include:

Account Statement

You are probably familiar with account statements. For example, if you have a frequent flier account, you may receive emails from time to time letting you know how many miles you have in your account. Or, if you have a rewards program with a local business, the local business may send you a statement letting you know how much money you have in your rewards account. If you run a business with a rewards program, you may want to send an account statement to your customers from time to time.

Order Confirmation or Shipping Notifications

After a customer has purchased a product on your e-commerce website, the customer typically expects an order confirmation email sent to them so they can confirm their purchase was successful.  Likewise, If you are sending out physical products to your customers, you may want to send them shipping notifications with tracking. You can send your customers an email when a shipping number has been created, when it has reached a distribution center, and when it has been delivered. These types of transactional emails are very helpful because they keep customers in the loop regarding their purchases, creating a better customer experience.  

Security Notifications

If your customers have an account with you, you may want to send security notifications to them from time to time. For example, if they have reset their password recently, you need to let them know. Or, if someone has logged into their account from an unfamiliar location, you may want to send a transactional email to them to let them know that an unrecognized login has just taken place. Customers will appreciate the extra layer of security.

Marketing Email Examples

Just as you probably use transactional emails, you should take advantage of marketing emails as well. Some of the most common examples of marketing emails include:

Cross-Sell Offers

You may want to use marketing emails to generate cross-sell offers. You can use this email to encourage someone to purchase another product based on their purchase history. For example, if you sell shaving products, and someone buys new razor blades, you may want to send them a cross-sell offer that encourages them to purchase shaving cream as well. The goal is to get existing members to increase their purchases of your products and services.

Up-Sell Offers

You may also want to use marketing emails to encourage up-sell offers. Essentially, you are encouraging someone to purchase something that is slightly more expensive than the plan they already have because you feel like they will get more benefits out of it. For example, if someone has subscribed to the regular plan you offer, you might want to send them a marketing email that encourages them to upgrade to the premium plan.

Product and Service Updates

From time to time, you may also want to send customers marketing emails about new products or product updates. For example, if there is a new product you are releasing soon, you may want to send an email letting your customers know that you have an exciting new offer coming. Or, if there are changes happening to some of your services, you might want to send them an email letting them know about the new services you offer.

These are just a few of the biggest examples of marketing emails and transactional emails. All of them can be beneficial, but how can you use WooCommerce to help you set up both of these types of emails?

The Right Way to Setup Transactional Emails for WooCommerce

Since many transactional emails are auto-generated emails from your WooCommerce store, the method by which these emails are sent often comes down to your website host. Most web hosts have their own default servers to send out emails from your website on your behalf at no extra cost. As a default configuration, this makes a lot of sense, especially for less tech-savvy website shop owners.

The downside to this setup is that email has a lot of systems in place to prevent others from ‘spoofing’ or impersonating your domain’s email. This is not only to protect your domain from bad actors trying to trick your customers into giving sensitive information but also to prevent malicious spam from ending up in everybody’s inboxes posing as you. This is where the issue arises – transactional emails such as order confirmations may not be properly received by your customers or end up more often in their spam box than they should as a result of your web host’s lack of domain verification to send on your behalf.

Since your web host typically doesn’t have the proper domain verifications in place to act on your behalf, business-critical emails such as these can be lost and frustrate customers who may ask for refunds or shop elsewhere next time. Likewise, most web hosts don’t have transparency or logs on their side into what happened to an individual email when issues do come up.  

This is why it is always recommended to use a dedicated transactional email service provider.  Transactional email services provide a dedicated email service for your website’s transactional emails in which you can give them the proper domain authentication. These services even have dashboards to easily track what happened to an individual email.

For example, a customer might complain they didn’t receive an email, but with a dedicated transactional email service provider, you can often view exactly what happened to their missing order confirmation email.  And having one of these services will not affect your normal domain inbox emails such as Google or Office365. Your standard email provider and transactional email service provider can both have permissions to send out on your domain without any issues.

So how do these services work with WooCommerce? These services typically override your default web host’s email service so you need to use a free WordPress plugin to integrate your transactional email service provider and override your web host’s email system. In our case, we recommend the free WP Mail SMTP WordPress plugin. It supports a dozen transactional email service providers right out of the box with a simple configuration. For most providers, you simply need to verify your domain in their system, add what email address you wish to send emails out from, and add an API key into the WordPress plugin. 

WooCommerce Compatible Transactional Email Services


SendGrid is one of the most reputable transactional email service providers out there. They have been around since 2009 and many consider them the gold standard in email service.  Their popularity makes integration into any platform (including WooCommerce), a breeze.  

Likewise, they also offer the ability to send out marketing emails separately if you prefer to have one email service provider (EMS) for both transactional and marketing emails. They are well known for their reliability and email deliverability, but also have template libraries, additional reporting metrics, and other non-developer tools built for marketers. SendGrid has straightforward pricing, although it is not the most budget-friendly provider compared to other EMS providers out there.


MailGun has been around almost as long as SendGrid but takes a slightly different approach.   Their service is primarily focused on being the best transactional email delivery service for software developers. They also have rock-solid service but do not focus as much on marketing tools and resources as SendGrid. If you only need transactional emails, MailGun is a straightforward choice that provides more detailed error and logs reporting than something like SendGrid. Likewise, forwarding any email replies sent by customers to your transactional emails (such as a user replying to an order confirmation email)  is much easier to set up than on SendGrid. Pricing is comparable to SendGrid.

There are dozens of other email service providers / SMTP hosts out there that are a fraction of the cost of SendGrid or MailGun.  We typically stick with these two providers due to their delivery reputation, but other options like Amazon SES and Sendinblue may be good choices if have a strict budget to adhere to. Just make sure whichever choice you make, a well-known WordPress plugin exists to easily configure the integration with your WooCommerce store. 

The Right Way to Setup Marketing Emails for WooCommerce

Similar to transactional emails, it is not recommended to send out marketing emails from your website itself. In some ways, this is even more important because marketing emails are much more likely to be marked as spam and if several users mark your emails as spam, your website’s domain or website IP address could be blacklisted. A blacklisted domain or website means that email service providers such as Google or Office365 might block you from sending out emails from your inbox itself or Google might stop showing your website in search results.  With that in mind, there is a similar solution in place with marketing email services as there is with transactional email services.  

Marketing email services are typically more sophisticated than transactional email services since having more control over the design, tracking statistics on user engagement, and automated emails based on user behavior can make or break an email marketing campaign with sales on the line. Additionally, since marketing email services typically require compliance with spam laws, data needs to be saved that a user ‘opted in’ to receive your marketing emails.

Common Marketing Email Service Providers


For many small and medium businesses, MailChimp has become the standard email marketing service provider over the past 20 years. MailChimp aims to be the marketing platform for SMBs and in many ways, succeeds. This ESP owns approx.  60% of the SMB email marketing marketplace. MailChimp combines a beautiful user interface with powerful marketing tools.  MailChimp provides everything an SMB marketer might need from websites, domains, and appointment bookings to social media, digital advertising campaign management, and traditional print postcards. MailChimp’s customer automation journeys based on user behavior are quite powerful and MailChimp integrates with nearly every software platform out there including an official WooCommerce integration.


Klaviyo is the new kid on the block but provides straightforward and easy-to-use audience-specific email targeting. Want to target specific customers who bought your widget in the past week, live in Atlanta, Georgia, and are most likely female? Klaviyo can set up this email campaign in only a few minutes and automatically trigger the campaign to a customer who meets your specific criteria. Klaviyo doesn’t have all the features MailChimp offers, but does an excellent job at what it is supposed to: targeted email marketing campaigns based on your user behavior. It provides more control over the types of triggers targeting your users based on their behavior than MailChimp in a much easier way. This has made it the winner among many B2C e-commerce stores.  Klaviyo is well known for having simpler pricing than something like MailChimp as well. Similar to MailChimp, Klaviyo provides an official WooCommerce integration.

Boost Your WooCommerce Store With Help From Inspry

If you want to get the most out of your WooCommerce emails, we are here to help you. At Inspry, we will help you take the guesswork out of your e-commerce development, maximizing the results of your digital marketing efforts. Contact us today!

Matt Schwartz is an accomplished entrepreneur and technology expert based in Atlanta, Georgia. He is the founder and CEO of Inspry, a WordPress and WooCommerce web development and maintenance web agency that has been providing cutting-edge technology solutions to clients since 2011. With over a decade of experience in the industry, Matt has become a respected figure in the web development community and has helped numerous businesses achieve their digital goals.