According to SparkPost’s 2020 Transactional Email Benchmark Report, companies recognize this. Indeed, 95% of those the email delivery platform firm polled indicated that transactional emails, which include purchase confirmations, notifications and onboarding communications, were “very important” or “somewhat important” to their customer engagement efforts.

At the same time, shortcomings in how companies manage and send transactional emails are becoming more apparent. They include:


Close to 50% of the companies polled revealed that they have received customer complaints about transactional emails not being received. That’s a sizable jump from 38% two years ago.

That figure isn’t surprising, however, when one considers that just 52% of those surveyed said that they use some form of authentication when sending emails and a fifth weren’t even sure if they were using authentication.

Of those using authentication, just under 39% use SPF and close to 40% use DKIM. DMARC, a newer protocol that uses SPF and DKIM, is used by just 21%.

Because ISPs and email providers have for years been getting more aggressive in trying to stop spam before it reaches inboxes, companies not taking full advantage of these authentication protocols are unnecessarily creating delivery issues.

On this front, it’s worth noting that nearly half of companies task IT/engineering with sending transactional emails and just under 30% use an email service provider (ESP). While in-house staff at some companies might be capable of competently managing deliverability issues, in many cases small and mid-sized businesses will lack the resources that ESPs dedicate to this.

Analytics and testing

A higher than expected number of survey respondents (37%) told SparkPost that they didn’t know what percentage of engagement is occurring on mobile – “a major potential experience issue.” This demonstrates that many companies are falling short in implementing and using email analytics capabilities.

Similarly, just 36% of companies are using testing to optimize their emails. When done right, testing can play a big role in driving email marketing success.


The quality of the copy in transactional emails is critical. Every detail, down to tone of voice, can shape how customers perceive this part of their journey.

As such, it’s not surprising that the majority of transactional email copy is written by writers in marketing or product roles. But more than a third of the writers are in technical/IT roles, so there are a sizable number of companies at which copy is lacking because the wrong staff has ownership over its creation.

As SparkPost sees it, “Those leaving transactional email content in the hands of disconnected IT developers are likely leaving opportunities for conversion on the table and will fall behind in growth.”

Good news

Despite the shortcomings SparkPost identified, the news isn’t all bad. 30% of respondents reported engagement rates exceeding 50%, and a third reported engagement rates between 20% and 50%.

“The lack of visibility in reporting, minimal testing and content production are huge opportunities for understanding and improving the performance of transactional emails,” according to SparkPost’s Director of Strategic Insights April Mullen. In other words, even though many companies are achieving high rates of engagement, they can achieve even higher rates by dealing with their shortcomings.

Since many of the shortcomings, such as lack of use of authentication protocols, can be fairly easily addressed, exploiting these opportunities will not require arduous effort and should be a priority in 2020.