Triggered Emails for Online Retailers



There’s email. And then there’s triggered email.

With one, you write a message, maybe add some personalization if you have that kind of data available, and send it out to people or groups when you want them to know or do something.

With the other, it’s automatically personalized, and relevant, and timely because it’s triggered by their individual actions and behavior. What they do or don’t do.

As a recipient, which one would you be more likely to open?

Event-triggered email campaigns track user behavior on your site – eCommerce or otherwise – to send triggered emails as a result of specific actions.

Trigger based emails deliver higher open rates, better click-through rates, and most importantly, more conversions. In fact, 75% of email revenue is generated by triggered emails.

Which means, if you’re not using them, your email marketing is considerably less than it should or could be.

At its simplest, triggered emails follow a basic “if this then that” structure:

  • Sign up > welcome email
  • Inactive or x months since last purchase > win-back campaign
  • Multiple viewings of a product or category > educational and/or special offer series
  • Didn’t complete checkout > cart abandonment series
  • Made a purchase or download > thank you email

It doesn’t get any easier (or more effective) than that. Once each triggered email campaign is created and set-up, it’s essentially on autopilot when combined with a service like SmartMail. New call-to-action

Types of Triggered Emails

It’s not one-size-fits-all in the trigger-based email game. It’s a category rather than a specific type unto itself. You might use some of these, most of these, or all of these in your email marketing:

  1. Welcome (trigger – signing up, registration, creating an account)
  2. Getting Started/Onboarding (trigger – creating an account, logging in, exploring your site)
  3. Win-back (trigger – inactivity including no recent logins or purchases, little or no engagement)
  4. Cart Recovery (trigger – items in cart without completing checkout)
  5. Reminders (trigger – inactivity, reduced engagement, time to reorder)
  6. Post-purchase (trigger – made a purchase or download)
  7. Thank You (trigger – made a purchase, left a comment, shared a post, signed up, downloaded)
  8. Early Activation (trigger – signed up but done nothing else)
  9. Reactivation (trigger – lack or dip in engagement)



Image Source

  1. Browse Abandonment (trigger – multiple views of a specific product or category without placing an item in the cart)
  2. Anniversary (trigger – birthday, date of business opening, date of becoming a customer)
  3. Milestone (trigger – account milestone such as fifth purchase or tenth purchase, X number of reviews left, hitting a new tier in the loyalty program)

In broad strokes, you could lump most of them together into four major sub-categories:

  1. Real-time (based on location, weather, events)
  2. Retargeting (retention, reminders, win-back, post-purchase)
  3. Lifecycle (prospects, new subscriber, new customer, repeat customer, VIP, lapsed customer)
  4. Transactional (post-purchase, thank you, cross-sell and upsell recommendations, digital receipts, order and shipping confirmations, password reset)

No matter your business or industry, you need at least a few of these in your tool belt.

Triggered Email Subject Lines

As David Ogilvy famously said, your headline is 80 cents of your dollar. Subject lines are the headline of the email world. Spend wisely.

  1. Thanks for Signing Up
  2. Welcome Aboard
  3. Glad to Have You With Us
  4. Thanks for Your Order
  5. We Miss You
  6. Let’s Get You Started
  7. You Forgot Something
  8. Time to Reorder/Stock Up
  9. Something on your Wishlist is on Sale!
  10. It’s Been Another Great Year With You
  11. Your [Product Name] Has Shipped
  12. Invite Your Friends to Try [Product or Brand]
  13. How Would You Rate Us/[Product]?
  14. An Exclusive Offer Just For You, [Name]
  15. How Can We Help You
  16. We Thought You’d Also Like These, [Name]
  17. You’re Now Eligible for our Reward Program
  18. Thanks for Posting/Sharing/Dropping By
  19. Can We Entice You Back?
  20. It’s Been Awhile

Triggered Emails in the Real World

The stats don’t lie. The behavior-triggered email is one of – if not the – most powerful and effective type to add to your tactics.

  • Triggered email campaigns accounted for only 7% in the first quarter of 2017, but generated 2x the open rate, nearly 3x the click-to-open rate, and almost 5x the click-through rate of other email types (source).



Image Source

  • Businesses see an additional 2.8% of revenue for each trigger-based email (or series) they add to their marketing mix (source).
  • The top 3 most effective emails are mobile opt-ins, birthday emails, and transactional emails (source).
  • Personalization improves conversions by 10%, click-through rates by 14%, and transaction rates by 600% (source).
  • Welcome emails generate 320% more revenue per email than other promotional messages (source).
  • 70% of consumers are frustrated by irrelevant content sent to them (source).
  • In the retail industry, the average click-through rate for batch and blast emails is 3.9% compared to 19.6% for triggered ones. That’s over 5x better (source).
  • Just over 20% of consumers will convert an abandoned cart if reminded within the first hour (source).
  • An email with a single call-to-action increases clicks by 371% and sales by a staggering 1617% (source).
  • Digital receipts and order confirmation emails see a jaw-dropping average open rate of 65%, click-through rate of 10.4%, and conversion rate of 1.4% (source).

Do they work in the real world? Yes they do. Does their performance outweigh the time and effort to create them? Yes it does.

Triggered Email Best Practices

Of course, you’ll want to follow the best practices for email marketing in general, but triggered emails do have a few that are specific to them.

Be timely. Behavior-triggered email campaigns need to jump into action immediately or very, very soon after the action takes place. You want to hit their inbox while still at the top of their mind and while they have warm, fuzzy feelings about you, your products, and the purchase they just made.

Be informed. Your messages must be based on user data.

Make them actionable. Provide a clear and easy to implement call-to-action (CTA). What’s the desired outcome from sending the email? What do you want them to do?

Be relevant. This one is easy. Your event-triggered email campaigns should be tied directly to user behavior, actions, profile, and/or preferences.

Look great on mobile. Just over half of all email is now opened on mobile devices.

Take advantage of digital receipts – they have exceptionally high open and click rates – by including a special discount or coupon for their next order, an introduction to your loyalty or reward program, upsell and cross-sell recommendations, and/or a request for feedback.



Image Source

“Permission marketing [e.g. behavior-triggered emails]…offers the consumer an opportunity to volunteer to be marketed to. By talking only to volunteers, Permission Marketing guarantees that consumers pay more attention to the marketing messages.” ~Seth Godin

In a perfect world, all email would be triggered email. We’d open, read, and click every single one because it connected with our behavior and intentions at that very moment. It’s a marketers dream.

And the best news? The dream can be a reality. Let SmartMail show you how easy it can be.


Download the eCommerce Email Automation Playbook

Learn How To Drive At Least 40% Of Your Revenue From Email Marketing.