Receipt and invoice email best practices

Editor’s note: This guide builds on the tips from our transactional email guide that covers both content and technical best practices that apply to all of your transactional emails. It’s a great primer for transactional email in general and will help make sure you get the most value from this guide too.

If you run any kind of online business, you’re almost guaranteed to have receipts and invoices. Any healthy business will need to process payments and send receipts for those payments. As ubiquitous as they are, they're emails that are frequently overlooked in terms of value and customer experience. However, a well-designed receipt or invoice can make a great impression on your customers and even help generate additional revenue.

Receipts vs. Invoices #

There's one simple but important distinction between invoices and receipts. In general, invoices are sent prior to receiving payment as a way to request payment whereas receipts are sent as proof of payment. Some services send multiple emails for each payment, and this can be especially confusing if the emails are sent close enough together that they essentially become redundant. I’ve even seen applications send an invoice, a payment notification, and a receipt all within seconds of each other. Not only does this become confusing, but it clutters inboxes.

So chances are that unless your business has extenuating circumstances, sending a single email for the receipt is enough. This guide will focus on receipts, but we’ll also touch on some places where invoices might be different.

What are the goals of receipt and invoice emails? #

To help put yourself in the recipient’s shoes, let’s think through the most important goals of this email. Thinking about the email in terms of priorities can help you decide how to weight and emphasize the various bits of information that need to be included.

1. Let the recipient know payment was received or needs to be made #

The simplest and primary goal for receipt emails is to let the recipient know about the payment. An invoice would focus on the request for payment while a receipt acknowledges payment. So, ideally, this information should be communicated in the subject or pre-header. If you’re using Gmail’s Inbox Actions, you could also include a link to the primary action for a little more convenience.

2. Give the recipient what they need to process and file the expense #

For many businesses, the receipt needs to be processed by the accounting department, or they may need it for an expense report. Alternatively, invoices may require some paperwork or processing before the payment can be made. Making sure to provide a useful and valid record of the expense for accounting purposes is a close second in terms of useful information on receipts and invoices.

3. Make related actions convenient #

While receipts and invoices have their primary actions, they can also trigger other actions for the recipient. For receipts, maybe they got a new credit card and need to update their card on file. Maybe they need to add someone else on their team to the receipt notifications. Maybe they want to upgrade or close their account. Or maybe they just have a question and need to ask for help. For invoices, they may want some additional context about the charges. Give some thought to your use cases and try to include the relevant links so they can quickly take any related actions on the receipt.

4. Insert relevant information about promotions or related purchases on receipts #

While a receipt is primarily about notifying someone after a purchase, they can also be used as handy reminders or a way to strengthen a relationship with a customer. You can include promotions thanking them for their purchase and offering a discount on their next purchase. Or, if you run a specialty shop for swimwear and they just bought at new swimsuit, you might include links for them to also remember to buy things like sunblock or sunglasses. The goal here isn’t purely to increase sales but to recommend relevant and useful purchases at the right time.

These goals may seem obvious once they’re written down, but keeping these goals and these priorities in mind when creating and evaluating your receipt emails can help provide a framework for deciding what to emphasize and what to downplay. Now let's talk about specific pieces of data you’ll want to include in your receipt emails.

What are some key considerations or common mistakes with receipt emails? #

Great receipts and invoices make life easier on your customers and keep unnecessary support requests to a minimum. Bad ones, on the other hand, confuse your customers, increase support requests, and hurt your brand. Fortunately, there are some simple things you can do to ensure happy customers and avoid unnecessary support requests.

Forgetting the required information for your customers to have a valid document for accounting purposes #

Many people and businesses rely on receipts for expense reports, accounting, and taxes. Invoices are often a central part of the purchasing process for many businesses. In all of these cases, they need the document to include all of the relevant information to make it valid for the relevant processes. Unfortunately, laws and requirements vary from country to country and organization to organization. Accommodating all of the requirements can be difficult. However, by including the business name and address of both your organization and that of the purchaser will cover the vast majority of problems.

If a VAT or similar is relevant where you or your customers are, then make sure to include all of the relevant tax information as well. More often than not, the best way to handle this is to ensure that there is a location for customers to add the necessary information to receipts and invoices to be valid in their locale. If you’re not already familiar with your customer's requirements, these can almost always be addressed by offering a single text area input for your customers to populate. Then you can include that information for them automatically.

Treating receipts as an afterthought instead of an opportunity #

It’s pretty unlikely that someone would stop doing business with you over a receipt, but receipts are still a great opportunity to offer a great experience for your customers. Dealing with paperwork is never any fun, so every extra small step that you can take to make their lives easier will go a long ways towards building good will. This can be as simple as taking the time to design an easy-to-read receipt, providing an easily printable version of the receipt for paperwork, or giving them the ability to customize the receipt with additional information for their specific needs. By going a step beyond, you’ll save your customers time, build some goodwill, and decrease support costs from special requests. Take a little extra time to design your receipts, and you’ll be glad you did.

Making it difficult to contact support or get answers #

If anything is quick to trigger a support request, it’s confusion about money. With physical products, is it obvious how they would handle a return? What if they got the wrong item? What if they forgot to add their coupon code? What if the order was created by accident? Ideally, nothing will go wrong, your receipts and invoices will be well designed and easy-to-read, and your customers will be 100% satisfied every time. Of course, things don’t always go that way.

Receipts and invoices are some of the more important interactions you have with your customers, but if there’s a problem, and they don’t know the best course of action for a resolution, it can become a really negative experience quickly. Make sure the best contact methods are clear for your customers. Should they log in and make a request about a specific order? Should they use Twitter? Should they call a phone number? Make it easy for them to get answers, and make sure that you take great care of them here.

Not clarifying how the charge will look on their credit card statement #

These days, with various payment processors and online billing solutions, credit card statements don’t always show nice and neat descriptions of the charge. Instead, they may show an abbreviation for your payment processor with a few characters for your product. Or they may use your company name rather than your DBA name. To make matters worse, many of them use yet another description on pending charges.

Regardless, it’s only a matter of time before a customer confused by a charge leads to a chargeback. While you can’t stop this 100% of the time, if you know that the charge will show up in a way that could confuse your customers, take a little space on the receipt and make sure to let them know what to expect. You’ll mitigate chargebacks and save both you and your customers time researching charges.

Not including a printer-friendly format #

Ideally, every receipt or invoice email would include a PDF or other printer-friendly document attached. This isn’t trivial to do from a technical standpoint, but you can always do something to help. While most emails won’t be printed, receipts and invoices frequently will due to their role in business and accounting processes. So if you take the time to include a printable option with the email, you’ll help your customer be one step ahead of their paperwork. And, if you do take the time to include a printer-friendly version, make sure to mention it in the email where they can find a downloadable version.

Not including line item information directly in the email #

This is less common, but in some cases, providers will include a wonderful PDF attachment of the receipt but fail to include any information at all about the purchase in the body of the email. This makes it difficult for someone to scan the email and see what the charge was for. So make sure to include some information about the purchase directly in the body of your email. For customers, that quick scan can mean the difference between worrying about a transaction and relaxing because it looks good at a glance.

What information should be included in receipt and invoice emails? #

Receipt and invoice emails are some of the most information dense transactional emails you can design. There’s a lot of information to communicate, and it’s all of fairly similar importance. And, unlike most other emails, recipients will need to print and use receipt emails offline for accounting and tax purposes. So they cover a unique but extensive set of use cases. Let’s dive in and look through the key components to include in your receipt emails.

A unique and human-readable subject #

The subject of any email is particularly important because it’s displayed more prominently. As we discussed in our transactional email best practices, too often, the subject is used for information that is redundant with the from address or date of the email. For example, if the from address is “{Product/Company} Billing” it doesn’t help to include the product or company name in the subject. Instead, that information can be used for other things.

Similarly, including the order number in the subject is rarely useful because it’s not human-readable. Including it in the body of the email is usually enough. Save that space in the subject for more meaningful information, or, if it must be in the subject, place it at the end.

Let’s look at some examples where we’ll bold information that is likely redundant or not helpful to include in the subject:

  • Purchase Receipt for Order {Order Number}
  • {Company} payment receipt
  • Your receipt from {Company}
  • Receipt for your payment to {Company}
  • New Payment for {Company}
  • Software license and invoice for order {Order Number}
  • {Company} Payment Receipt - INVOICE #{Invoice Number}
  • Your Receipt and License Information
  • {Company} Order Receipt
  • Your {Company} Receipt [#{Order Number}]

These subjects aren’t terrible. They just leave room for improvement. Assuming that you’re using a great “From” address to communicate the company name, what’s the most useful information to include in the subject?

  • Price - Frequently, the amount paid is going to be one of the more unique and identifying pieces of information in the email. On one hand, if a customer makes multiple purchases from you, the price may be the most consistently unique but still human-readable piece of information about the receipt. ex. “Your purchase for $19.99”
  • Product - If the purchase and company name are different, then including product information may be useful. For instance, a purchase from Amazon is likely unique enough to mention in the subject. ex. “Your purchase of rechargeable batteries”
  • Month and year - Even though emails have a month and year implicitly through time stamps, including an explicit month and year of the purchase can help individual emails stand out from each other for recurring expenses. ex. “Your May 2016 receipt for $19.99”

By keeping your subjects different from each other, human-readable, and conveying unique information not found in the “From” address, you can help your customers more easily search, scan, and locate relevant emails with a little bit of thought into the formatting of your receipt subjects.

Download or license key information #

If the purchase is a digital download or license key for previously downloaded software, that information should be obvious and easily accessible. Since that’s what your customer just purchased, it’s best to make that as easily accessible as possible. If it’s not easy to find, or the link is easily broken when the line wraps, you can count on receiving support requests that could have otherwise been easily avoidable.

A screenshot of a portion of an email receipt from Plasso that shows a bold 'Download Files' button with a secondary 'View Receipt Online' button.
Plasso.co receipts display prominent links to download and view the receipt.

Another subtle improvement for download links is to ensure that there’s clear and actionable information for the customer if the link expires. Who do they contact? What information do they need to provide? So if that download link has an expiration date, make sure to include a link on renewing the expiration date in case someone needs it.

Shipping information (if relevant) #

If you’re selling physical objects that need to be shipped, you’ll want to include as much data about shipping as you can. That could be as simple as including a link to the shipping service website, estimates about the shipping date or arrival date, and the name of the shipping provider and tracking code. Sometimes, you won’t have all of this information at the time the receipt or invoice is generated, so it may be necessary to handle it separately with shipping notifications, but either way, this is the physical equivalent of that download link. Letting people know when and where to expect shipments helps them coordinate and plan, so making it readily accessible is a great way to make it easier on recipients.

Line items and links for related actions #

With any receipt or invoices, the most important information is the line items and their costs. Along with displaying the basics of this information, you’ll also want contextually relevant links to view additional details online or manage the order or payment. It’s unlikely you’d forget to include the itemized details on a receipt, but you may not have thought about adding convenient links to those line items. For instance, Apple knows that people occasionally run into problems with digital downloads, so they include a “Report a Problem” link next to each line item on their receipt. This makes it easy for customers to reach out and get help when something goes wrong.

A screenshot of an iTunes receipt line item with links to related actions.
On Apple's iTunes receipts, they include links to review the product, or, more importantly, report any problems so they can nip them in the bud.

One more important facet of including itemized details is to ensure that there’s also a printer-friendly version available. You can include this as a PDF or generate it on the fly if it’s requested. Having a printer-friendly format included directly in the email can really make things easier for your customers who need it for handling paperwork. With a PDF included right in the email, they can even automate the process to a degree making things ever easier for them.

Invoice ID, Account ID, and/or Order ID. #

In addition to the line item breakdown, occasionally people need to contact support with bigger questions about a receipt. In that case, they’ll need to be able to communicate effectively with the support agent. This usually means providing information about the specific order in question. In most cases, this can be a hyperlink directly to an authenticated page with details and additional actions the recipient can take. If that’s not possible, though, just make sure to include it in a prominent location.

Include an explanation and corporate information #

For most receipts with a line item, it’s pretty straightforward to understand the charges and the company that billed them. However, with third-party billing systems, company DBA names, and the business name on credit card statements, the correlation isn’t always neat and tidy. By including information on a receipt about the company, the reason for the charge, and a detailed description of the product purchased, you can save a lot of stress for your customers.

This is also a great place to add a bold statement about how the charge may appear on their credit card. If the company name and product name are different, include a statement for customers explicitly connecting the corporation name with the product that they’re being billed for.

Payment and billing information #

While the itemized receipt should include the total payment amount, it can sometimes be even more convenient to include a simple sentence near the top of the email. These summaries can make great pre-headers as well.

  • $29.00 was billed to your Visa ending in 1234 by Acme Inc. for your purchase of Anvils.

While a bold summary at the top of the email is a good first step, you’ll likely want to include more explicit details about the card billed, date, and the name they should expect to see on their credit card statement. One last tiny but important piece is the name of the person who made the purchase. Frequently, the emails are forwarded, or someone in a different department is CC'd on an email. If they don't recognize the charge and don't know who to ask, it's not uncommon for them to issue a chargeback. The more info they have to recognize the charge, the better.

When it comes to taxes and accounting, many governments and companies have very specific requirements for valid invoices and receipts. These include the billing address of the purchaser, the address of the billing company, and VAT IDs. Your requirements will vary by location, of course, so you should make sure to explicitly look into the rules where your business operates. The key here is to simply be aware of the requirements and provide this information to customers when a receipt shows up.

Enabling the addition of this information is a little more complex, but in most cases, a textarea where your users can add additional information to be displayed on the receipt will suffice. If you do this, just make sure to include a link in close proximity that enables people to quickly jump in and edit the information when it becomes outdated.

Follow-on requests #

At the end of any receipt email, there’s a lot of opportunity to both help your customers and increase sales. First and foremost, provide a clear course of action for them to report a problem or concern. If there’s a genuine mistake, you’ll want to make it as easy as possible for them to let you know about it. This could be as simple as an email address or more advanced like a contact form that you pre-populate with information from the email. Of course, if you’re not using a no-reply address, customers should know that they can just reply to the email with questions.

If they don’t have any problems to report, you could ask for comments or feedback. How was the order process? Were you able to find everything you were looking for? How can we improve? If somebody has made a purchase with you, it’s a safe bet they’re more invested in helping you succeed. Asking for feedback always depends on context, though. Make sure you’re doing so judiciously.

Related information and products #

With any purchase, there’s always room to help the customer beyond the purchase. One of the easiest ways is to offer related content. For instance, if you sell camping equipment, you might provide links to articles about planning a camping trip or camping safety. This is a great way to go above and beyond and help customers get even more out of their purchase.

Another option with your receipt emails is to offer coupons or discounts. These could be a simple coupon for a percentage off their next order or a reminder about an upcoming sale or special event. You could also offer a coupon for the recipient to both use and share with a friend. These are great ways to give your customer something of tangible valuable and build some repeat business.

Finally, receipts are a great way to suggest additional related products. For example, if they bought something that needs batteries, you might include a reminder to purchase batteries. Or, if they bought something bigger like a bicycle, you could include suggestions to consider a helmet. The goal with any of these kinds of recommendations is to ensure that they’re incredibly relevant. If someone just purchased a bicycle and the recommendations are for other bicycles, then they’re not much use to the customer.

Contact Information #

It may seem obvious, but when you’re sifting through all of the above elements to include in your emails, it’s easy to forget about including the most basic contact information. Including a website URL gives the recipient an easy way to refresh their memory about a purchase down the road.

Additionally, it can be incredibly useful to include support contact information like an email address or contact form. If you go with a form, it would also ideally use URLs with query string values to pre-populate the form with the recipient’s order information. Or, better yet, just make sure that customers can reply to order emails and they’ll get into the support queue.

Thanks #

Screenshot of a Buffer receipt showing the entire team.
The Buffer team includes current team photos in their receipt email.

One final bit of information to add is a simple thank you. At a physical point-of-sale, you’re able to interact directly with customers. A simple smile and thank you go a long ways. Don’t think that’s true? Picture your last purchase where the person behind the cash register was grumpy or less than friendly.

It’s difficult to send human emotions over emails, but there are other ways to make transactions more meaningful and human. Depending on your company’s size and culture, your approach may vary, but one way or another, it’s worth it to say thanks. Buffer does a nice job with this by including a photo of the team and a short note of appreciation. They even update this picture from time-to-time so it’s current.

The checklist #

And here's a quick summary checklist to help remind you of the individual points once you start designing and building your template.

Order information #

  • Download link (And possibly information on renewing a download link if it expires)
  • Line items with plan and/or product name and prices, taxes, and a total
  • Invoice/Order ID and link to view details or manage the order/purchase
  • Your corporate information (i.e. You are receiving this because you use…)
  • Text and PDF version of receipt

Payment and billing information #

  • Purchaser name
  • Payment amount
  • Card billed/Payment method information
  • Billing address
  • VAT ID
  • Link to update billing information

Follow-on requests #

  • Give them a clear path to report a problem or concern
  • Ask for comments or feedback

Related information and products #

  • Share related content
  • Coupons/promotions/discounts
  • Ask for a referral (potentially with a coupon)
  • Cross-sell relevant products (They must be relevant.)

Contact information #

  • Website URL
  • Support contact information
  • A support-backed reply-to address
  • Phone number

Thanks #

  • Thanks for your support
  • Team information

Postmark's receipt and invoice template #

Everything you've read in this guide will help you send incredibly useful receipt and invoice emails. These tips are all great theory, but we wanted to make it simple for you to move right through theory to great practice. Which is why we created a set of open-source receipt and invoice templates you can use with any email service provider.

Screenshot of Postmark's open-source receipt template
Postmark's receipt template uses all the best practices covered in this guide.

Our templates include a receipt and an invoice email to help you get started sending with all the tips we've covered here. You can also grab a nicely formatted plain text equivalent for each of these emails with each template too.

You can grab the receipt and invoice templates and learn more about the rest of our template collection in their Github repository.

MailMason logo

If you like Postmark's templates you should check out MailMason. It's a tool we've built to streamline every aspect of creating and maintaining your transactional email messages. Every Postmark template is included out of the box with MailMason. On top of those templates MailMason gives you the power of a Grunt-based email design workflow and makes it simple to maintain all of your transactional emails. You can use Mustachio to tightly integrate with Postmark's template engine, or adapt MailMason to your workflow for another email service provider.

We want to help you send incredible transactional email messages, even if you choose to use a different email service provider. If you have any thoughts on how we can improve MailMason, we'd love for you to share them in the MailMason repository on Github.


Read all of our transactional email best practice guides #

We've assembled a series of guides on best practices for multiple types of transactional email.


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