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Mastering the Order Confirmation Email

Part 1 of 5: The goals

May 20, 2018
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You just made a purchase online. You bought something from a seller you have limited (if any) experience with. You had to trust your guts, the seller's pitch and the reviews from your peers, then hope for the best. The first item you get from the seller following the transaction is an email. Most likely, that email is a standard nondescript message titled "Your order." It says: "Thank you for your purchase. Your receipt is attached." What are the chances that you'll remember that vendor or be impressed enough to buy from them again?

Let's switch sides: you made a sale online. You sold something to a customer with which you had no true personal interaction: your marketing and e-commerce stack took care of that process. All you know about the customer is the information he/she gave and the successful payment data. All you have to do is to go back to the customer and confirm the order before processing it. In other words, you need to send an order confirmation email. What is that first email going to be?

  1. Whatever order confirmation message your e-commerce stack suggested as a default template
  2. A direct copy of the receipt
  3. A thank you note, and a hyperlinked summary of the receipt
  4. A long-winded thank-you letter boilerplate that introduces your company and a link to the receipt online
  5. A welcome message to your mailing list (which the client never signed up for)
  6. Something else...

Is any of this what you want? Is it what the customer wants? Does the order confirmation email improve your business and your relationship with the customer?

How can you do better?

In this article, we'll deep dive into the design of your order confirmation emails. We'll look at the goals, the structure, the layout, and the content of the first communication which follows each online transaction.

The Goals

Emails threads are the closest equivalent to a signed contract (receipt, agreement, etc.) you can get in an online transaction. Emails can be — and often are — kept by the receiving party as a proof of transaction. Those emails provide a trail to help identify any problem later on. Since online transactions have none of the anchors that real-world transactions possess -- a physical exchange of goods, the physical presence of both parties to the transaction, physical locations, verbal, written and signed contracts, receipts, etc. -- the only reliable trace of such a transaction is most often the email that concluded it.

From a seller's point of view, the goal is of the order confirmation email is dual:

  1. Confirm the terms of the transaction and provide a reference point — typically, an order number.
  2. Wow the customer into remembering you -- the seller -- as well as providing him/her with references and assurances.


Remember that people forget. Even though you got a customer to open his/her wallet and spend X amount of their hard-earned money on one of your products, you should not assume that the consumer will recall the terms of the transaction, or even the transaction itself, moments after it completed. Online transactions are stateless.

You need to provide the customer with a traceable record of the transaction. The more complete the record, the better the outcome for both party. That record is a copy of the information that would otherwise be provided on a printed invoice, along with payment details. If such details are available at the time of the transaction, you need to provide them to the customer in full. We'll look at those details in our next installment.


More than likely, there are hundreds of sellers selling the same, or a close equivalent of, the product you sold. The likeliness that the consumer who pulled the trigger on your offer will remember your business' name is very dim.

Everyone knows Amazon and Wall-mart. Nobody knows or remembers your store's domain name, no matter how clever that name is or how fancy your website looks. For all kinds of reason, and only with few exceptions, you cannot out-perform those big name sellers on vectors such as pricing, availability, the speed of delivery or even after-sale service. You will not change that fact, no matter how hard you try. As unfair as it sounds, the big guys can sell their products at cost, or even under cost, and still turn out a profit.

To get around this foundational problem, you'll need to impress — wow — your customer. This process starts the moment someone becomes a customer. That is: when your order confirmation email greets the new or renewed customer.

[Continue reading here]


The Mailman

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