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eCommerce User Experience

WooCommerce Clinic: 7 Ways to Make Your Transactional Emails Shine

WooCommerce sends out very dull transactional emails to customers unless you make them more colorful and personally engaging. Here’s how to do that.

Estimated reading time: 10 minutes

A Tale of Two Checkout Experiences

You've just finished your meal at your favorite restaurant, and you are paying the bill with a credit card. The card reader approves your transaction and spits out a strip of thermal paper. The waiter asks, “Would you like your receipt?” Maybe you do want it. Perhaps it's a business expense. Most often you do not want a receipt, but the restaurant is legally required to offer you one. Usually, it's instant waste paper. It's spam.

This is still a common experience — receiving an annoying, somewhat redundant transaction record after a purchase. But in some stores and restaurants, you have the option to have your receipt emailed to you. A salesperson may ask if you want to receive a newsletter where special events and discounts will be advertised. If it's a store you like or a restaurant you intend to return to — and if the staff are friendly — you may well say yes!

Which is the better experience for you, the customer? Which is the better marketing tool for the store owner? Clearly, the second example is best — for the business and the customer! Unfortunately, WooCommerce and all other eCommerce platforms deliver the former experience by default. You have to make an effort to change this, and you should.

Everyone likes getting personalized letters, packaging, and even a nice email from retailers and brands. Unfortunately, WooCommerce can't do that for you automatically — you have to think it through and add the personal touch yourself.

List of WooCommerce transactional email types
WooCommerce sends a lot of different types of transactional emails. Why not make them more pleasing to your customers and better marketing tools for your store?

What is a Transactional Email?

Transactional emails carry messages that are generated automatically by content management systems like WordPress and eCommerce platforms like WooCommerce. When you create an account, reset a password, or buy something you're sent machine-generated emails. They are often spam-like in every way! Apart from the fact that you, the customer, triggered these emails, they would be universally regarded as spam. Much like our receipt at the restaurant.

Even if we need them, these are not terribly pleasant emails to receive. They may be plain text or have HTML templates, but by default, those templates are pretty dull. That plus the fact that millions of people receive transactional emails every day means they may end up in your spam folder. Or, you may simply overlook them. Gmail and other mail clients segregate transactional emails as promotions or updates so they never land in your primary inbox. They're rarely personalized deeply if at all. How can they possibly be helpful for driving sales and retaining loyal customers?

Let's find out how!

WooCommerce sends out very dull transactional emails to your customers unless you change the default settings and customize them to be colorful and personally engaging in line with your brand. That's exactly what you should do to make order receipts, invoices, and other notifications an additional marketing tool.

Dull by Default

Here is an example of the nearly identical default WooCommerce order and refund confirmations. A customer would get these messages after their order is processed and shipped or when a refund has been issued:

  • A default WooCommerce order completion notice.
  • A default WooCommerce customer refund notice.

Another nearly identical email would already have been sent at the time of the purchase. The first email WooCommerce sends indicates the order was received and the transaction was completed successfully. The lack of differentiation between this and so many other transactional emails can make us blind to their content.

⚠️ Don't Overload Your Customers!
Overloading customers with emails is another downside of transactional processes left to their default settings. If a payment processor (like PayPal Payments Standard) was used, it might also send the customer a transactional email. It too will use a default template — unless the owner has branded and personalized it. You can reduce the number of emails being sent to customers from WooCommerce. You can also use payment systems like Stripe that can integrate more silently into your site.

The customer's name is not included in transactional emails by default. It exists in WooCommerce, however. It's part of the customer's order record and their payment method, although the latter might may be under someone else's name. The mail carrier and tracking number are not included by default — that requires add-ons that must be configured in WooCommerce.

Unless someone manually adds a note to the customer inside WooCommerce, nothing unique or personal will appear in the order receipt. The lack of personalization in the refund notice is especially unhelpful. A simple note is needed to explain why the refund was issued. This also may be a good place to address a customer support need or complaint.

How to Make Transactional Emails Engaging

What would make this a better experience? Try any of the following features:

  • Ensure you use the customer's actual first name in a greeting.
  • Add a relevant message that's on-brand.
  • Design the email to use your logo and brand colors.
  • Add additional offers and opportunities.
  • Include a small number of links and teasers for relevant content on your site.
  • Add a link to your newsletter subscription form — and explain why it is relevant and won't be spammy.
  • Include links to your social media accounts.
  • Make a clear path to customer service with welcoming instructions.
  • Make some or all transactional emails replyable by email. (If you have the capacity to respond to customer support requests that way, it's a great idea.)

This is really some low-hanging fruit — most, if not all of these, are easy things to do in WooCommerce. So let's walk through the ways you can best do them. Keep in mind the goal is to create a winning customer experience. Carefully crafted emails say you're a real person who cares about customers. Using personalized messaging and giving the customer the option to respond to you on several channels is not that common. The care you show your customers matters enormously to your brand. It can set you apart from your competitors.

🆓 Get a quick preview of all the emails WooCommerce sends from your customers' point of view with WooCommerce Email Test. 🔌

1. Greet Your Customers by Name

The default template under WooCommerce > Settings > Emails (Tab) > Customer invoice / Order details does not address the customer by name and awkwardly says “Thanks for using…” followed by your store's name.

WooCommerce default template messaging for customer invoices.
The default template's messaging for customer invoices in WooCommerce.

To use the customer's first name, you simply need to include the variable {customer_first_name} — and here's a handy reference for many other variables.

Notice the email type selector at the bottom — it's really important. Using HTML emails allows you to code links and use typographical enhancements like italics and bold type.

Tip: You can always use emojis, even in plain text emails to spice things up.✨

2. Communicate Effectively

Transactional emails are not the place for longer messages — except when they are. You should always be as brief and to-the-point as possible. However, some specialty goods and services may call for special instructions, congratulations, or assurances to the customer. You may wish to set expectations for delivery time and provide a linked tracking number. (How you do this depends on your shipping services and how you set up your store.)

It may feel risky, but if you have a “satisfaction guaranteed” policy and you really mean it, why hide it? The order confirmation is the place to affirm the value and excitement in owning/using what you're selling. It's a good place to assure buyers of expensive or complex items they are backed up by your customer support.

📧 There are some really good examples of order confirmation emails at Drip.com. The writing is clear and on-brand. All of the features of effective transactional emails we're covering are demonstrated in the samples.

3. Brand and Customize Transactional Emails in WooCommerce

At the bottom of the WooCommerce > Settings > Emails screen you can change the colors and add your logo on all transactional email templates:

Transactional email template settings for WooCommerce.
Transactional email template settings for WooCommerce.

This is the minimum you should do to brand these emails. If you want to customize them further, you can code your own email templates. Or, use a handy no-code solution like the Kadence WooCommerce Email Designer (free) or WooCommerce Email Customizer (not free). There are other options out there, but these two plugins are really solid and highly recommended.

4. Sweeten Customer Order Notifications with Special News and Offers

Post-purchase emails are an excellent place to ask for reviews and offer a discount code for feedback. You don't need anything extra to do this in WooCommerce — just add messaging and links to the HTML templates' editable content in WooCommerce > Settings > Emails.

(A customizer plugin like Kadence WooCommerce Email Designer will help you do this better.)

If you only sell a few things, adding an appropriate item to promote in transactional emails is simple enough. Style it as a “share this with your friends” type of ad that links to Twitter, Facebook, etc. To add any kind of dynamic content to an order email, you can create a PHP snippet as demonstrated here.

Dan Magill on the WooCommerce blog has some excellent suggestions about using custom email receipts to win customer loyalty and drive sales. Dan recommends Kadence and services like Conversio, CM Commerce, HubSpot, and others. These services tie into WooCommerce and take over your transactional emails completely.

Make sure your emails are delivered by using a service like Mailgun or Mailchimp instead of WordPress/WooCommerce. Log and monitor all the emails that are sent. Make sure your emails settings are correct and don't look spammy. The WP Mail SMTP plugin will help you do that. It can help you set up Gmail or services like Mailchimp to handle your outgoing mail too. 📤

5. Use Transactional Emails to Upsell and Cross-Promote Products

As explained above, you can add anything to your order invoices and other transactional mail. Why not upsell or cross-promote? WooCommerce has an excellent overview and guide to these practices.

6. Use Transactional Emails to Promote Your Social Media Accounts and Newsletter

In the same ways described above, you can add links to your social channels. Why not your newsletter too? Maybe offer an incentive for following or subscribing. You might include a link to your blog or a special offer landing page. Just plug in the HTML subscription form code your newsletter service provides. Add snippets from Twitter, Facebook, and others you wish to include.

Advanced: Code your own email templates to include linked social media icons in the footer.

7. Be Replyable, Be Answerable, Be Accountable

Finally, if you can back it up, use your post-purchase transactional emails to solicit feedback. Use a real, human-monitored address as the recipient of any replies that come back to you. Answerability and accountability go together, and your customers will value and respect it if you are responsive. You've got to show up for them, however. Be sure you have a prepared team and capacity for any new channel you open up for incoming customer communication. But it's well worth doing; it will force you to make good on your promises and customers' expectations.

What have you learned from your efforts to personalize your customers' experience? Do you use transactional emails as a marketing and customer support tool? Tell us about it!

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By Dan Knauss

Dan Knauss is a writer, editor, speaker, and teacher. He's a long-time WordPress freelancer who enjoys helping people use digital publishing effectively. Dan also blogs about disability, neuropathy, neuromuscular disease, and medical research at cmt.blog.