How to Make Your Confirmation Emails Not Suck (and Make Money)

How to Make Your Confirmation Emails Not Suck (and Make Money)

Confirmation emails may be the least-developed customer touchpoint. These standard, expected emails are often as delightful as your typical in-store receipt (read: not at all delightful). Because confirmation emails are triggered by the user’s actions, your customers are expecting something – which means they open, notice, and engage with them.


Experian found that confirmation emails had average click-through rates from 12 to 20 percent, approximately five times the rate of bulk mailings. The same trend held across any email metric including open rates, revenue-per-email and transaction rate.

Uninspired confirmation emails are a missed opportunity to upsell, provide great customer service and generally do something memorable while your customer is already paying attention.

That’s the principle that drove Isabella, a health and wellness retail company, to change their text-only receipts to an HTML-rich email leveraging their recommendation feature. The new emails saw a 111 percent higher conversion rate than existing sales or alerts emails.


Image from MarketingSherpa.

Isabella did quite a bit to get these results – they launched the recommendations feature, moved to an HTML rich format and aligned their web and email experiences.

Essentially, Isabella leveraged the online-version of the moment when you’re asked, “Would you like fries with that?” They paired what they knew about their customers intent and their own goals as a company to deliver relevant offers.

More simply, they simply looked at an under-developed touchpoint and thought about how to better serve their customer. At their core, confirmation emails are one-on-one communications triggered by the customer at critical stages in their lifecycle and we can all learn from Isabella.

Users Trigger Confirmation Emails at Critical Stages in the Customer Lifecycle

Users essentially ask for confirmation emails by submitting fresh data when they subscribe, sign up for an event, download an information product or purchase – all of which are potentially key steps in their lifecycle.

 1. Confirmation Emails Provide the Opportunity to and Challenge of Having a One-on-one Conversation

Unlike any other digital medium (except maybe text or direct messages), email is a one-on-one conversation, which means it has the unique potential to drive sales through relevant, personal offers.

In their 2014 Email Marketing Census, Econsultancy found that just over half (55 percent) of respondents achieved more than 10 percent of their sales from email. But when asked what they’d like to improve, 64 percent of email marketers said personalization.

That’s likely because effective one-on-one conversations require tailoring your communications to a specific individual, which requires data, which can be a challenge.

To some degree, confirmation emails solve the data challenge because they come at these critical moments and are triggered by users.

2. Confirmation Emails Happen at Critical Moments in the Lifecycle 


By triggering a confirmation email, the user is sharing some important information:

  • They’re telling you where in the lifecycle they are
  • They’re telling you what they want

When you know what your customer is thinking, you can more easily meet and exceed it. What’s more: because you know exactly where they are, you also know how you want them to advance in their lifecycle. Based on that, you can send more relevant offers.

3. Confirmation Emails Come with Valuable Data

With confirmation emails, you have a wealth of recent data from your customer because they triggered the email. Depending on the form, the user could have updated data fields, inputted new data or passively given you data through what they purchased or signed up for.

As an added bonus, experimenting with confirmation emails can give you valuable data about the gap between what your customer is thinking and where you want them to go. As you test changes, you can find mistaken assumptions and get a clearer picture of your customer.

Step 1: Use Sign-up Confirmations to Clarify the Terms of Your Customer Relationship

Depending on your sales process, a newsletter or other email sign-up confirmation can be the first one-on-one message you send, so it sets the tone and expectations for your relationship. At the same time, it’s early, so you might not know much about your customer.

What user just did What user expects to see Questions to ask yourself How you might add value while moving down sales funnel
Signed up for on-going communication through a webform Details about their subscription
Button to confirm their subscription
Ability to edit email preferences
Do we have enough information to qualify this lead?
Is this prospect ready to make a purchase? What kind of offer could we make?
Provide links to a few pieces of content – depending what they click, you’ll know more about their interests
Special offers for new customers

Tip #1: Consider YOUR Sales Funnel

As you’re crafting this critical touchpoint, consider your overall sales funnel and whether you and your customer have enough information to move to the next step. Depending on the length of your funnel, the email could look very different:


Tip #2: Set Clear Expectations

Beyond having the right message at the right time, this first one-on-one touchpoint can shape your customers’ expectations for how they’ll be treated overall – including expectations about the type of content they’ll receive and how frequently they’ll receive it.

Forrester found 77 percent of consumers say they should be able to decide how, when, and where marketers communicate with them, yet according to Experian, 60 percent of marketers do not give customers the option to communicate their preferences.

The sign-up confirmation email is an opportunity to close this gap. Here’s an example from American Eagle of a customer re-engagement program:


Image from Experian.

This re-engagement email gives the user the opportunity to confirm their subscription and preferences, but that request doesn’t have to wait until a customer has lost interest.

Research shows 67% of users unsubscribe because of emails received too frequently. By asking and then respecting how a user would like to be communicated with early on, you can continue a positive relationship with them through purchase and beyond.

Why It Matters: Clarity Reduces Friction

AWeber conducted a study to determine what kinds of email subject lines performed best. They tested 20 subject lines, sent to a list of over 45,000 subscribers and found that clear subject lines outperformed catchy ones by 366 percent.

Overall, maintaining clarity is a good policy for any experience, and the principle holds true for confirmation emails from the subject line, to the CTAs and everything in between.

Be clear with your new subscribers (potential customers) about how you’ll communicate with them, what they’ve subscribed to and what value you hope to add with your email communications.

Step 2: Show Micro-conversion Actions (Trial Sign-up, Event or Info Product)  as Progress Towards a Goal

Micro-conversions are the tricky steps between the introduction and the final sale where users could be interested in a lot of different offers.

What user just did What user expects to see Questions to ask yourself How you might add value while moving down sales funnel
Signed up for a trial Login information and trial data What else do they need to know to convert?
What are the big things they need to accomplish in the trial? How can we make that easier?
Make yourself available
Provide an info product that walks them through the process
Provide rewards for the steps already taken
Registered for an event Event details, including time & location
“Add to calendar option”
What’s the next step for this customer?
What information are they looking for?
Provide an info product that builds on their inquiry
Requested an information product Link to the information product How do we help this customer further his/her goals? Serve them the next logical info product based on their initial request

Tip: Customers May be Taking a Step Into New terrain – Show Them How Far They’ve Come

While the specific actions differ by industry, these middle-of-the-funnel steps are all attempts by the user to educate themselves more on your product or a relevant topic area. Showing their progress towards the goal can motivate them to move forward.

Take for example this email from Vero, an email marketing software, that users receive once they’ve sent an initial email through the tool:


Image from Vero.

Vero explicitly shows users how far they’ve come in the process (they’ve already sent one email_ and then seamlessly leads users to the next step (running an A/B test or sending a newsletter). This email averages a 72 percent open rate.

Vero is tapping into an important insight: confirmation emails sent for micro-conversions act like part of an onboarding process. In the same way that user onboarding flows make the process of becoming a user easier, your confirmation email is a step in the customer onboarding flow where you make the process of becoming a customer easier.


Here, Vero borrows the user onboarding convention of the showing the steps of using the product in a linear graphic to make users feel like becoming a customer is manageable. They also show how far down the path you’ve already come, giving you momentum to finish.

Depending on your product and sales funnel, you can show how close a prospect is to receiving a loyalty program deal or play with showing progress to a certain level of expertise by downloading particular information products.

For more: Intercom has a useful description of user onboarding considerations to use as inspiration for your micro-conversion confirmation emails.

Why It Works: Artificial Advancement Drives Effort

Researchers at the USC Marshall School of Business describe the ‘endowed progress effect,’ whereby individuals put greater effort into completing a task they think they have already begun, even if that process is constructed artificially.

Through a series of studies, Nunes and Dreze found that the illusion of progress was a powerful motivator – as users felt they’d already started a task, they gained momentum towards completing it.

They give examples of customers who are loyal to an airline brand because they’ve already gained mileage points towards a reward, even though that happens ambiently whenever a passenger books a flight.

Step 3: Reward Customers in Purchase Confirmations to Create a Reciprocal Relationship

When existing customers repurchase, they save retailers the cost of acquiring a new customer, yet online retailers focus their marketing dollars on acquiring new customers rather than delighting existing ones.

The purchase confirmation email is a key opportunity to drive repeat purchases because its the first impression for a customer of how they’ll be treated in the new post-purchase relationship.

What user just did What user expects to see Questions to ask yourself How you might add value while moving down sales funnel
Purchased a product Receipt with order information
Shipping information
What could they buy next?
What did similar customers do next?
Suggest similar useful product
Reward customers for loyalty
Set up a subscription Receipt with order information
Login information
What makes customers cancel their subscription? How do I avoid that?
What add-on or higher level would come next?
Provide an info product with benefits of an add-on product
Reward customers for loyalty

Tip #1: Confirmation Emails Aren’t Built to Drive Traffic

Typical e-commerce receipts are ‘dead ends’ – emails that provide information but don’t offer a next step for users to drive them back to your site. They simply aren’t built to create repeat engagement.

Which is why it’s not surprising that receipts with cross-sell opportunities show a higher click-through rate, on average, than those without:

Screen Shot 2014-11-05 at 5.30.20 PM

Image from Experian.

These types of emails are exactly what Isabella tapped into when they leveraged their website recommendations engine in their receipts. By offering related products, companies can provide value to their customer by doing the recommendation research for them.

Cross-selling is just one form of personalization, which is 68% of those surveyed by Edgell Knowledge Network said was a strategy for driving loyalty:


Image from eMarketer.

Research also backs up the idea that personalization drives traffic from email – one MarketingSherpa case study found a 17.36 percent higher click-through rate on emails where the subject line included the customer’s name.

Tip #2: Existing Customers are the Best Brand Advocates – Incentivize Them with Rewards

Another factor that many respondents in the previously mentioned Edgell Knowledge Network study felt drove customer loyalty was rewards and another survey by ClickFox found that the action customers were most willing to take for brands they loved was spreading the word.

Of course, customers also said that first impressions are key to gaining the loyalty needed to get this kind of positive buzz:

Screen Shot 2014-11-06 at 8.38.21 PM

Image from ClickFox.

Uber taps into both of these insights by incentivizing users to refer others in this receipt:


Image from Vero.

For Uber, word-of-mouth is the most effective marketing strategy and for every seven rides, they get a new rider from WOM. This strategy taps into their existing success with brand advocates.

By thinking of the purchase as another step in the customer lifecycle, you can craft the appropriate offer to drive loyalty and repeat purchases.

Why It Works: Rewards Create Mutually Beneficial Behavior

Studies suggest that customer satisfaction just isn’t enough to drive repeat purchases or loyalty. As surprising as it sounds, it simply might not occur to customers that their loyalty is valuable to you unless you reward it.

Reward programs are persuasive because they can increase motivation, one of the three elements of behavior outlined in the Fogg Behavior Method. It’s a two-for-one – customers feel rewarded for their actions and you can get more leads.

A Word of Caution: Filtering is Still an Issue

In their research into mobile email behaviors, MailChimp found that users exhibit a behavior called filtering where they review an email quickly and mark it as unread to go back to later, save it somewhere to read later or delete it.

Because they contain standard information, some types of confirmation emails are at risk of getting deleted without reading. Looking specifically at these, MailChimp found that the type of email often determined its fate:

  • Acted on right away – sign-up or registration emails
  • Saved for later – order confirmations, event tickets

This essentially presents an extra challenge for marketers to grab users in the short period before they delete it. Even if they open the email, there’s still a small window between when your customer gets the info they are looking for and before they move away.

As MailChimp also noted, users rarely read every word of an email and instead tend to skim for the relevant information. This means that overall good email design and information hierarchy is particularly critical in confirmation emails.


Confirmation emails are a unique opportunity for marketers because they are a one-on-one conversation, triggered by the user when they submit fresh data at critical stages in the lifecycle.

These often under-developed touchpoints can be an opportunity to do something remarkable while your user is paying attention, and to take advantage of them, marketers must consider their user’s mindset:

  • With sign-up confirmation, users are just starting their relationship with you – clarify expectations and set the tone for the relationship (clarify reduces friction)
  • With micro-conversion confirmations, users are educating themselves about your or  your industry – show users progress towards their goal (perceived progress increases the likelihood of completion)
  • With receipts, users have completed their purchase – reward their efforts with relevant offers or rewards for referrals (rewards motivate future behavior)

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  1. Wow, one of the best articles I’ve read on this blog.

    1. Thanks Walt – that’s a huge compliment, I really appreciate it!

  2. I agree, hard to find something so complete, and I even have to read it again because I couldn’t get all the information at the first time :-)

    1. Hey thanks – that’s super sweet! I often find myself in that boat with ConversionXL posts.

  3. This is a great post, Aviva!
    Thanks for putting all this great info together.
    This is a keeper.

  4. I love how thorough your article is!! The visuals help keep me interested!! Honestly, well done!!

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How to Make Your Confirmation Emails Not Suck (and Make Money)