How Amazon uses transactional emails to cross promote and upsell

How Amazon uses transactional emails to cross promote and upsell

An underrated opportunity

Transactional emails have uniquely high open rates (we often see 80%+) compared to marketing emails. Because of this, these kind of emails are an incredibly underrated opportunity for cross-promotions and upsells.

As an example, consider how Amazon cross promotes their Health Program on their recently redesigned (and highly engaged with) 'order shipped' email:

Recently redesigned Amazon email that shows a cross promotion banner.

Why don't more companies promote on transactional emails?

From what we've seen, there are a couple of reasons:

  1. SPAM compliance regulations

CAN-SPAM compliance requires careful consideration about the content of your email. The CAN-SPAM Act applies to any commercial emails sent to recipients in the United States, regardless of where the sender is based. And non-compliance can lead to severe penalties, including fines up to $50,120 per violation. For recipients outside of the US, there are additional international compliance regulations.

Within CAN-SPAM, emails like the Amazon above are considered 'Transactional or relationship content' - "which facilitates an already agreed-upon transaction or updates a customer about an ongoing transaction".

CAN-SPAM also states:

"It’s common for email sent by businesses to mix commercial content and transactional or relationship content. When an email contains both kinds of content, the primary purpose of the message is the deciding factor."

In order to keep the 'primary purpose' of the message to be focused on transactional, we recommend the following to remain compliant:

  • The subject line should be only about the transaction – the subject line should not share space with your promotion. Example: "Order confirmation for order #12345." and not "Your order + new health benefits".

  • Keep the content primarily focused on the transaction – Similar to the Amazon example above, transactional content must be shown first and should be the bulk of the email.

  • Promotional content at the end – Promotional content should be shown at the end of the email and should not visually draw more attention to it than the transactional content. Promotion should be less than 20% of the email content and clearly separated.

Think of the cross-promotion/upsell as a small ad slot and not as a way to manipulate or confuse recipients into clicking it.

  1. Template maintenance challenges

Product-triggered 'transactional emails', like the Amazon example are often maintained by software teams. This typically means marketing teams would have to work with engineering to change the content of the emails – which in reality means these emails never get changed.

An easy way around these bottlenecks is to use a platform like Waypoint that provides a no-code template builder. This allows teams to change promotional content within templates on-the-fly and without any code changes.

Adding a placeholder promotion within a transactional email template on Waypoint.


With (very) careful consideration about the content of your transactional emails, subtle cross-promotion/upsells are allowed - even through CAN-SPAM. Companies like Amazon take advantage of this and is often an underrated opportunity for increasing revenue. By closely following guidelines and using the right tools (like a no-code email template builder), this can be quickly implemented within your organization.