WooCommerce makes it extremely easy to set up an online store in a matter of hours. For businesses that run their sites on Wordpress, it’s become a go-to solution, and for good reason: it comes with a broad set of plugins and integrations that will satisfy both beginners and more demanding vendors.
Inevitably, emails are an integral element of any ecommerce experience. They drive new sales, keep customers informed, and get them to return to your site sooner rather than later. As the Woocommerce ecosystem has grown a lot in recent years, so has the number of available options for sending emails. And, as is often the case, the default methods aren’t always the best ones available.
In this post, we’ll cover everything you need to know about sending Woocommerce emails, including:
- Why automated emails are important
- Types of ecommerce emails
- Default method of sending WooCommerce emails
- WooCommerce email solutions
- How to test WooCommerce emails
Why Automated Emails Are Vital for Ecommerce Growth
Whenever a fresh customer shops with you, there’s a specific flow they expect to happen. An email needs to make its way into their inbox, confirming a newly created account. Later emails are expected when an order is placed, paid for, and shipped. When they get into trouble — by forgetting their password or running into another issue — it’s email that puts them back on track.
Wherever a customer goes, emails accompany them along the way, giving them peace of mind and providing an easy reference when the need arises. They don’t necessarily need to open all of them. They may not interact with them as much as you would hope. But if one or two skip their inboxes, it can ruin an otherwise perfect customer experience.
Transactional emails enjoy significantly higher open rates than any other messages. According to a landmark IBM Study, 45% of transactional emails are read on average, with the most successful segments achieving closer to 70%. Doesn’t sound like a lot? Compare that with marketing emails, which score on average 20-25% open rates regardless of industry.
Having such a wide open door to the customer’s inboxes provides many opportunities for business owners. Automated emails can upsell, re-engage, and inspire. They can build brand awareness and form a bond with an existing customer. They can sell for you 24/7, on weekends, on bank holidays, and any other time in between.
What types of emails should an ecommerce business send?
Since email marketing can help you build relationships with customers, boost brand awareness, promote your content, and more, it’s an essential part of running an ecommerce business. Now let’s go over the different types of emails successful ecommerce businesses incorporate into their email marketing strategy.
Confirmation emails might notify a customer that their order or payment has been confirmed, their order has been changed or canceled, that their payment has been processed or failed, or their refund has been sorted out, and so on. The purpose of this type of email is to notify a client of new developments, urge them to take a specific action (like verify their credit card), or give them peace of mind.
Delivery emails might notify a customer that their order has been passed to the courier company, been shipped, been delayed, gotten stuck on customs, been delivered, and so on. The purpose of these emails is to inform — most of the time they don’t require any action from a recipient. Ideally, the subject line of these emails is so descriptive that recipients don’t even need to open the message.
Abandoned Cart Emails
Abandoned cart emails nurture customers that didn’t finalize their orders, with the primary goal of getting them to the finish line. They send reminders, provide incentives, and try to put the recipients back on track (if, for example, their payment was declined). They’re meant to sell, and they do it pretty well. According to an Ecommerce Industry Benchmark Report by Klaviyo, businesses generated more than $60 million in sales directly from their abandoned cart emails in three months in 2017.
Account- and Platform-Related Emails
Account- and platform-related emails include emails about password resets, account creation confirmation, and any system notifications and onboarding emails ("first steps with X"-type of emails). They help put users back on track, or simply guide them to the desired outcome.
WooCommerce provides ready-to-use templates for 11 everyday situations that emails can address. To view and configure them, head over to your Wordpress install, click on WooCommerce > Settings, and open the Emails tab.
You can edit subject lines or recipients of an internal email from here. But if you need to do more than that — like upgrade the copy, work on the design, and so on — you’ve got to edit the template PHP file in your WooCommerce install.
Alternatively, you can use dedicated plugins for that – for example, WooCommerce’s own Email Customizer or Creativ.eMail. We’ll discuss more about email clients that you can install with WooCommerce shortly.
Default Method of Sending Woocommerce Emails
Wordpress (and WooCommerce) are built with PHP. So they use PHP’s default wp_mail() function to send emails. A lot has been said about this, but whatever you read, one common opinion prevails: it’s not a good method for sending emails. Why?
With wp_mail() in place, Wordpress attempts to use your hosting infrastructure to send each email. While many hosting providers provide some ways of processing emails, it’s not and will never be their core business. As a result, the sending infrastructure is mediocre at best, resulting in poor deliverability.
What’s more, in the “eyes” of email spam filters, you’re sending these emails directly from your server. This may not seem like a big deal, but it is. When assessing emails, spam filters verify who’s behind each email and gauge their so-called sending reputation.
Big senders, such as Hubspot or Mailchimp, have sent billions, if not trillions of quality emails in the past, building a solid reputation in the network. On the other end of the spectrum are the owners of much smaller online stores, such as yourself. Maybe you only got started some months back, or perhaps you’re setting things up for the big launch now.
Once you fully configure WooCommerce and put the first products on sale, you also need to be ready with order confirmations and other vital templates. And while there’s quite a lot you can do to improve your email deliverability, no matter how hard you try, you’re still virtually unknown in the network.
As a result, many spam filters will err on the side of caution, discarding some of your emails and putting others into the recipient’s "Promotions" folders.
This is far from a lost cause though. Let’s take a look at some solutions below.
WooCommerce Email Solutions
A very common practice for WooCommerce users is to use email sending services – such as SendGrid, Mailchimp, or even Gmail – to process their emails. This way, they rely on their infrastructure and reputation as email senders, immediately boosting their deliverability. At the same time, the shop owner is still shown as the message’s sender and will receive any replies to their automated emails.
For an end-user, there’s no difference. For small companies, like most that sell with WooCommerce, it’s a significant improvement.
There are many dedicated Wordpress plugins that are very easy to set up and plug into WooCommerce. They let you "outsource" all WooCommerce emails to an external tool and take advantage of their reputation. Nearly always, they also provide intuitive visual editors and tons of configuration options that aren’t available with WooCommerce out of the box.
Another approach is with generic email plugins that let you tweak your Wordpress SMTP settings and send all your Wordpress emails with nearly any third-party tool. It’s a more flexible approach, as you can easily switch between tools without additional installations. On the downside, it’s also a slightly more technical approach. Setting up in this way also takes care of non-WooCommerce emails, such as comments notifications, new user registration, etc.
I’ll explain both approaches below.
Email Plugins Recommended by WooCommerce
I’ll start with the plugins you may be already familiar with. If you installed WooCommerce recently, you probably remember all the plugins it suggests to add along with the core install. Here’s a look at some of them:
Each plugin is optional but adds some valuable abilities – such as payment processing, invoicing, or advertising. Notice there are also three plugins for building and sending emails. Here is a quick overview of each of them:
MailPoet is predominantly an email marketing tool. It makes it easier to compose a beautiful email and opens up a lot of customization options. You can do plenty from within your admin dashboard without the need to venture to their site.
A more exciting capability is MailPoet Sending Service. It removes the headache of sending from your server that I described above. It lets you dispatch up to 50K emails every hour, adds authentication methods, and offers a few more handy features.
You can enable it from within the plugin settings in Wordpress. Just go to "Send With" and pick "MailPoet Sending Service." You can send emails to up to 1,000 subscribers for free (in this case, it should count each unique user ordering from you). To send to more subscribers, you’ll need to upgrade to a paid plan, with the price steadily growing as you add more clients.
Although MailPoet is predominantly a content marketing service, it’s a solid option for automated emails as well.
MailChimp comes with a drag-and-drop builder that lets you build beautiful templates without writing any HTML. It works in a slightly different fashion than MailPoet, although the result is similar.
The plugin is rather basic and is mainly used to integrate with Mailtrap. It’s also capable of syncing your order history with MailChimp and effectively moving email management to their platform. For some, it will be a plus to have everything on WordPress, as was the case above. Others will appreciate having a separate tool for all things email.
Speaking of features, MailChimp lets you customize five types of emails out of the box. These types confirm the following:
- order placed
- payment collected
- refund processed
- cancellation processed
- order shipped
Separately, you can set up abandoned cart emails or messages based on various available triggers.
MailChimp is a bit more complex than its predecessor, but the complexity primarily comes from the number of available options. By default, all emails are sent with the MailChimp infrastructure, one of the best ones in the league.
MailChimp is free for up to 2,000 subscribers.
The last of the default email tools coming with WooCommerce is Creativ.eMail from Constant Contact. Like MailChimp, it lives in a separate window, the plugin being just a bare tool for an easy setup.
Creativ.eMail comes with an easy-to-use visual editor and a long list of ready-made templates. You can also remind customers about abandoned carts or send them a series of welcome emails. Like both of the email tools above, Creativ.eMail also features a set of tools for sending marketing campaigns.
Emails are sent via the Constant Contact infrastructure, guaranteeing you good deliverability. There’s a minimal free trial, after which you’ll need to upgrade to one of the paid plans.
Wordpress SMTP plugins
As I said earlier, the options above are just one approach. Personally I prefer to connect directly with email senders via their SMTP server or API. It’s mainly because the choice of tools is much broader, and it includes both reputable, paid options (such as Sendgrid, Mailgun) as well as free integrations (such as Gmail).
It’s important to note that this approach is a bit more technical, especially if you pick developer-focused tools, like Amazon SES and Sendgrid.
WP Mail SMTP
WP Mail SMTP by WP Forms offers about a dozen integrations available out of the box, most of which are available with the free plan. Once you make up your mind, integrating a tool is as easy as copying and pasting the credentials with a brief configuration.
Their Pro plan also has some exciting features. A few more services are available (Amazon SES, Office 365, Outlook, and Zoho Mail), and it also includes email logging. It’s a handy feature that logs every email dispatched from your Wordpress (including WooCommerce).
It’s useful for resolving customer complaints – you can find each message sent from your store and verify its details. Based on that, you may be able to figure out where (and if) an error occurred and address it accordingly.
It’s also a feature used for troubleshooting – when emails are not delivered and you want to check if they’re sent from your store in the first place. If so, the problem is likely on the side of integration. If no emails are logged, WooCommerce could be misconfigured. For further troubleshooting, please review WooCommerce’s own docs.
Post SMTP is a very similar tool, but with a few more options for debugging. It comes with support for any email SMTP, but also opens up support for four popular email APIs. Sending via API is a bit faster than is the case for SMTP. It’s also more convenient for companies with developers on board.
Once you pick the integration of your choice, you can let the wizard guide you or go directly into the settings and populate the credentials.
The best thing about this plugin? It’s completely free of charge, but, of course, you’re welcome to contribute to the author if you find the tool helpful.
Transactional email providers
If you chose the SMTP/API method, you likely already have an email provider in mind. There are many available options, with the majority of them offering generous trials so you can try them out and easily switch to another if they’re not what you’re looking for.
SendGrid is one of the leading solutions for sending mass emails. They offer an extensive API and can dispatch hundreds of emails every minute, making it an excellent solution for large stores. They also bolster the outstanding deliverability of their emails.
SendGrid is a developer-focused tool, so there’s quite a bit of a learning curve. It can be connected with an API but also through SMTP. The former is generally faster and offers more customization, but the latter is easier to set up for less technical users.
SendGrid used to offer a Wordpress plugin, but it’s no longer maintained. Connect via the tools I mentioned earlier instead.
Pricewise, it’s free forever if you send no more than 100 emails/day via API. Their marketing campaigns are free, with up to 2,000 contacts or 6,000 emails sent every month.
Mailgun is a similar tool in many ways to SendGrid. It’s also focused on developers and offers an extensive API for sending all your transactional emails. They focus even more on deliverability, offering a set of tools for improving your emails.
Due to their recent acquisition of Mailjet, they also now offer email marketing features - drag & drop builder, analytics, and automation, suitable for Woocommerce emails.
Currently, Mailgun offers 5,000 free emails to be used over the first three months after registration. Both Mailgun and Mailjet have Wordpress plugins, but both are rather poorly rated. You’re probably better off integrating via SMTP plugins.
Gmail certainly doesn’t need an introduction. It’s great for personal and business usage (via Google Apps), and even the free account can be used for sending Woocommerce emails.
Why? Google allows for emailing up to 500 unique recipients within 24 hours, including any internal addresses. This may not be a problem for the owners of small stores, but it might become a bottleneck as you scale up.
Gmail is also home to all sorts of spammers, phishers, and all of the worst kinds that frequently visit our inboxes. Because of that, their servers don’t boast as high a reputation as the competitors above. It’s still a significant upgrade over the default PHP method but don’t be surprised if an email or two sometimes skips an inbox.
Gmail can be connected via SMTP or API. Both are free to use, and connectable via the plugins I mentioned above (and many others).
How to Test WooCommerce emails
Finally, once you’ve picked the sending method for your emails, it’s worth setting up some procedures for testing them. You want to be sure that:
- Emails are sent from Woocommerce when triggered (e.g., when an order is placed).
- Emails arrive in the recipient’s inboxes, preferably right into their “Primary” folders.
- The text is readable, well-formatted, and accessible to a broad audience.
- All visuals load and don’t break anything on web, mobile, or tablet interfaces.
- The grammar is spotless, the links work fine, and everything else checks out.
Of course, there’s a lot more to look into, but these are the fundamentals you want to check first. You can do this with a number of tools.
Mail-tester is a straightforward tool for checking the spam score of an email. The higher the score, the lower the chance of an email being delivered to the recipient. It looks at many factors, such as authentications, links, formatting, spammy words, and other details.
Mail-tester doesn’t require you to sign up. All you do is email your defined template to an address on the screen. Shortly after, the spam score with details will appear. Even if you’re confident that your emails are OK, it’s worth running them through Mail-tester every now and then to be safe.
Mailtrap is a free email testing tool. It works via SMTP, but it sort of mimics sending. Emails are sent as usual, but rather than being delivered to recipients, they’re all captured in your Mailtrap inbox. This is particularly useful when you’re testing if emails are sent first, and don’t want to accidentally send your test emails to customers.
Once emails are captured, you can preview their web/mobile/tablet versions and check for any errors in the HTML of a message. You can also view the spam score, validate the headers, or determine if your domain made it onto any popular blacklists.
Mailtrap has a generous free plan that will probably cover all your needs. If not, paid plans start from $9.99/month.
Litmus is more focused on the visual side of an email. It lets you preview each template on dozens of screens, ranging from smartwatches to ultra-wide monitors. It also runs many automated checks for each template, verifying its subject line, links, visuals and running the usual spam checks.
Litmus plans start from $99/month, with a 7-day trial available.
What way will you send WooCommerce emails?
As you can see, there are lots of available options for sending Woocommerce emails. They’re also very different, and targeted at different groups, from basic or advanced. The choice very much comes down to your needs, to the number of emails you plan to send, and to your tech-savviness.
Here’s a quick summary:
- If you’re running a small store with a low email volume and little time at your disposal, I recommend one of the plugins that are built into Woocommerce. I have no association with MailPoet, but I found it the easiest to use for my rather basic needs.
- If you’re on a low budget and would rather not invest in advanced email infrastructure, try out the Gmail SMTP. As I said, it’s a bit limiting but will do just fine until your store grows.
- If you’re already taking dozens or hundreds of orders every day, I believe trying out a few SMTP providers will be well worth your time. In the long-term, they’ll save you a lot of trouble with undelivered emails, and the financial investment should be well worth it.
Best of luck and thanks for your time!
Originally published Jun 4, 2021 7:00:00 AM, updated June 04 2021