Defining the Transactional Relationship

No one likes an uninvited guest. When it happens as an unsolicited e-mail or as a random text, there is potential for trespassing. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) have banned “unwanted messaging”. However, when the consumer initiates, the rules change. Once a consumer enters into a transaction with a brand in exchange for a product or service and requests an e-receipt, a relationship has been established. Retailers now have a vehicle to inform, delight and further engage that customer with relevant products and services. “An e-receipt is considered a transactional or relationship e-mail under the Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) CAN-SPAM rules,” explains Joy Butler, a Washington, D.C. attorney and author of The Cyber Citizen’s Guide Through the Legal Jungle: Internet Law for Your Professional Online Presence. “When a customer opts-in to get an e-receipt, marketers can seize opportunity to deepen the relationship by including some promotional communication within the email and still remain legally compliant.”

The CAN-SPAM Act is considered a major hurdle to text and e-mail marketers. Its guidelines concerning how a retailer can approach a target audience via electronic messaging can appear riddled with contradictions, until you study the language of the law. Let’s take an informed look.

Informed Look at CAN-SPAM Act

Designed as a bulwark against unsolicited texts and e-mails, the Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography and Marketing Act of 2003 or CAN-SPAM, is sometimes confused by the misinformed as a mechanism against marketing through digital transactions or e-receipts. In fact, the language of the Act states the exact opposite, and does so unequivocally. The actual offender of the CAN-SPAM Act is the “Unsolicited commercial electronic mail.” Section 3, subsection (2) (A) of this Act states: The term “commercial electronic mail message” does not include a transactional or relationship message.

Further describing the meaning of “Transactional or Relationship Message” the Act states:

In General – The term “transactional or relationship message” means an electronic mail message whose primary purpose is - (i) to facilitate, complete, or confirm a commercial transaction that the recipient has previously agreed to enter into with the sender.”*

“When deciding whether the CAN-SPAM Act applies to an e-mail with both transactional and commercial content, the primary purpose of the message matters,” Butler says. “In that regard, the perception of the consumer receiving the e-mail message is crucial. If after reading the subject line and the content, a consumer reasonably believes the e-mail has a commercial purpose, the FTC will likely agree with the consumer.”

Today’s busy consumers often request electronic receipts. E-receipts offer a record of what the consumer has purchased without the risk or hassle of carrying around a small slip of paper prone to getting misplaced. Brands are now recognizing that the unique and explicit consent of e-receipts provide a platform for marketing with every transaction. But as such a marketer, it is important for brands to remain CAN-SPAM compliant.


To comply with CAN-SPAM, emails from companies must include:

  • An accurate subject line that does not mislead the recipient about the e-mail’s contents

  • A valid physical address (such as where the product was purchased)

  • Information on how the consumer can opt out of receiving more e-mail from the company. The information must remain valid for at least 30 days, and the company needs to respond to an opt-out request within 10 days.**

“ is best practice to have the consumer opt-in to continued marketing messages either at the point of sale or by invitation within the e-mail receipt"

– Joy Butler, Attorney and Author

Longevity of E-Receipt as a Marketing Tool

Compiling transactional data is not new. But how does a transactional digital receipt translate to building a brand’s general e-mail list?

According to Butler’s book on internet law. “If the company wants to retain the e-mail message for future marketing messages, it is a best practice to have the consumer opt-in to continued marketing messages either at the point of sale or by invitation within the e-mail receipt. Companies can add an incentive such as a discount or free item to increase the number of consumers opting in for the continued email messages.”

To stay within the guidelines and avoid violation of the CAN-SPAM Act, marketers should build their follow-up messages around the initial transactional relationship and make their word choices accordingly. In general, this is also a positive way to engage your consumers, as the best marketing is about building sustainable relationships that lead to loyal customers.

“Ensure the customer understands that providing an e-mail address at the point of sale is optional,” attorney Judy Butler’s book emphasizes. “Otherwise, the company risks claims of violating state laws that limit the personal information retailers can collect from consumers during in-store credit card transactions.”

How Retailers Can Capitalize on E-Receipts to Build Loyalty and Engagement

An e-receipt packing a marketing message provides a viable platform for reaching out to established customers and building relationships with new ones. The digital receipt’s inherent advantage of being a transactional electronic mail message exempts it from FCC bans and permits a unique flexibility within the guidelines for delivering follow-up e-mail messages.

A recent four-year study by Custora, an e-mail marketer, shows that e-mail marketing is quadrupling the rate of customer acquisition versus social media outlets Facebook and Twitter during the same period, which have seen relatively flat returns.† The e-receipt is perfectly situated within a growing acquisition channel with added advantages that standard e-mail marketing messages lack. No single electronic message establishes and confirms a consumer/brand relationship like an e-receipt.

Tips for Keeping Email Messages in the Transactional-Relationship Realm

  • Use a subject line that refers to the relationship such as “Here’s your e-receipt” or “Receipt Confirmation”.

  • Begin the content of the e-mail with information about the relationship.

  • Devote most of the message to the relationship.

  • Keep the commercial component of the e-mail at the end and brief.

  • Commercial components could include an invitation to visit the company’s website, subscribe to the company’s newsletter, or follow the company in social media.

  • Do not over-emphasize the commercial component of the message with type size, font, graphics, etc.‡

Opening Doors to the Next Sale

E-receipts are the format which gain marketers access to all channels consumers use today. Whereas desktops once dominated the e-purchasing world, customers are now permanently married to their mobile devices, reviewing, researching, show-rooming and finding out all about your products and services—and your competitors. By creating a ready-made vehicle for future purchase coupons, consumer surveys, product videos, social media and special event notifications — you are one step ahead in engaging that customer to the next purchase. “Where did you buy that?” becomes “Where can I get one right now?” As e-receipts close the deal, they open the engagement for the next potential sale.

About flexReceipts

flexReceipts is an e-receipt technology and marketing strategy company pioneering the building of engaging relationships between brands and modern consumers. For advice about how e-receipts can power omnichannel marketing for your brand and keep customers coming back for more, visit

*Source: Federal Communications CommissionWebsite † A Custora study from 2009 to 2013 concerning acquisition channel growth ** ‡Source: Joy Butler,Washington, D.C.-based attorney and author of “The Cyber Citizen’s GuideThrough the Legal Jungle: Internet Law forYour Professional Online Presence”.