Every email you send to a customer and/or prospect is a chance to build the relationship between you and the recipient. But, more often than not, many companies overlook these messages and don’t seize them for what they are. Opportunities!

Look in your own inbox for examples of transactional messages such as order confirmations, shipping statuses, credit card expiration notices, system maintenance, etc. It’s likely you’ll see a lot of the same boring looking and sounding messaging. We recently conducted an audit of our own transactional emails and decided it was time for a major overhaul. My team and I discussed things we wanted to change to put the action back in our transactional messages and we’re happy to share them with you too:

Write Like a Person – Read through your transactional messages out loud and listen to how they sound. Do they sound like they are coming from a robot or somebody in IT? #Fail! Ours did, because frankly they were written back when VR was started 11 years ago and we didn’t have a marketing team. Tone is very important in transactional messages. Just because they’re transactional in nature doesn’t mean they have to be toneless and boring. Use these messages as an opportunity to connect better with your readers.

Check out the Welcome Email from ModCloth (a VR marketing team fav). They do a great job striking a brand appropriate tone and setting the pace for what is to come in their other marketing and transactional messages.


Be Consistent – I can’t stress this enough. When I reviewed our own messages, this was a big one. Look at every element of your message from the logo, greeting, closing, phone numbers, everything. Put on your branding hat when you do this and look at it from the perspective of your customer. Do your messages have a similar look and feel to your website and/or blog? Does the tone match or complement that of your other messages?

Two retailers that I frequent (*see disclaimer below) do a great job of this: Gap & Gilt. Retailers happen to be very in tune to branding so this doesn’t come as a surprise. Check out these examples from their order confirmation messages:

Gap is spot on matching their current look and feel with the neon background. They have their logo right at the top and include a nav bar right to their site. They also cross promote their sister brands like Old Navy in the right hand column.

Gilt uses the same nav bar at the top of their message as their site and all their flash sale emails for consistency. I really like that they also have a nice reminder right near the top that you get free shipping on anything else you order within the hour (good incentive to go back and add one more thing to your cart). The suggested “You may also like” is also a great touch to drive additional revenue and personalize the message, though I’m not sure what caused the combo of lingerie and knives to be suggested to me based on buying a children’s dress!


Add Some Flair – I pointed out in the last two examples the inclusion of sister brands and “things you might also like”. Transactional messages are the perfect place to focus on cross-sells, up-sells and other products or services for your customers and prospects. Just ensure those suggestions add value and are relevant (unlike the lingerie and knives above).

Take Action – Many of the messages I reviewed needed a clarity facelift, as in what do I want the reader to do with this. Remember, these messages should follow the same email best practices as any other message so keep them concise, clear, easy to scan, well-designed and most important – have a clear call-to-action. Don’t make the reader work to figure out what you want them to do. Is this just an FYI? Do they need to update their credit card information? What do you want them to do? Then, lead them down the path with clear directions.

Get feedback – I love shopping at the Apple store. Not only is it a beautiful place that’s always buzzing with activity, but I have found their customer service and experience to be virtually flawless. So, after my recent purchase, I asked them to email me my receipt. When I received it in my inbox about 3 seconds later, I noticed they included a survey to tell them about my customer experience. Smart, smart, smart. I have to admit I was a bit surprised by the text only message, which seemd odd given the slick design standard that Apple has. Of course we know that text only messages can be very effective for transactional messages so I forgive you Apple, for not making it pretty.

What can you do to put the action back in your transactional messages? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

*All shopping done for this post was done in the name of research. That’s my story and I’m sticking with it.

© 2012 – 2018, Contributing Author. All rights reserved.

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