Commercial vs. Transactional Email

The Airship platform handles commercial email legal requirements and industry best practices, from opt-in/opt-out rules to data privacy laws.

An email can contain three different types of information:

  • Commercial content — Advertises or promotes a commercial product or service, including content on a website operated for a commercial purpose.
  • Transactional (or relationship) content — Facilitates an already agreed-upon transaction, or updates a customer about an ongoing transaction.
  • Mixed content — Both commercial and transactional content in the same message.

Emails are considered commercial by default and require an unsubscribe link. You can manually flag messages as transactional and send them without the unsubscribe link, in accordance with CAN-SPAM regulations.

Commercial Content

If the message contains only commercial content, its primary purpose is commercial, and it must comply with the requirements of CAN-SPAM. If it contains only transactional or relationship content, its primary purpose is transactional or relationship. In that case, it may not contain false or misleading routing information, but is otherwise exempt from most provisions of the CAN-SPAM Act.

Transactional Content

The primary purpose of an email is transactional or relationship if it consists only of content that:

  1. Facilitates or confirms a commercial transaction that the recipient already has agreed to;
  2. Gives warranty, recall, safety, or security information about a product or service;
  3. Gives information about a change in terms or features or account balance information regarding a membership, subscription, account, loan, or other ongoing commercial relationship;
  4. Provides information about an employment relationship or employee benefits; or
  5. Delivers goods or services as part of a transaction that the recipient already has agreed to.

Mixed Content

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. Here’s how to make that determination:

If a recipient reasonably interpreting the subject line would likely conclude that the message contains an advertisement or promotion for a commercial product or service, or if the message’s transactional or relationship content does not appear mainly at the beginning of the message, the primary purpose of the message is commercial.

So, when a message contains both kinds of content – commercial and transactional or relationship – if the subject line would lead the recipient to think it’s a commercial message, it’s a commercial message for CAN-SPAM purposes. Similarly, if the bulk of the transactional or relationship part of the message doesn’t appear at the beginning, it’s a commercial message under the CAN-SPAM Act.

For more information, see the FTC’s CAN-SPAM Act: A Compliance Guide for Business.

Opt-in and Opt-out Requirements

Commercial Emails

Transactional Emails

  • Date of consent to register an email address to receive transactional emails is optional. If no consent date is included and the user has opted out of transactional type emails from your brand, then they will not be able to receive any in the future. If they need to be re-registered to receive these emails, then their date of consent is required and must be later than their opt out date.

  • Unsubscribe links are not required for transactional email messages, and in most cases we do not recommend including one.

Business-critical Emails

  • There are some cases where a brand would like to include an unsubscribe link on a type of transactional email but will still need to send business-critical emails, such as order confirmations or password reset emails. In these cases, the opt-out can be overridden and sent regardless of unsubscribe status (for commercial or transactional).

  • Business-critical emails should never include an unsubscribe link.

Bounce Handling

See: Bounce Handling.

Spam Complaints

  • Some end users will not want to receive any emails from your brand at all, and will show this by hitting the Spam button in their inbox. When this occurs, Airship will remove the email address from your list, mark the email channel as a spam complaint, and never deliver to it again.

Change of Address

  • If a customer has changed their email address in a brand’s system, you can update the Airship record using the API. This will update the email address while maintaining the channel ID, named user, and any tag information added for that channel. See: Updating Addresses and Registration.

Compliance Event API

  • Maintaining clean mailing lists is important — not only for Airship, but for your brand as well. You can use the free Compliance Event API to stream send, unsubscribe, bounce, and spam complaint events. These events should be processed and properly handled on your end on a regular basis.