Dismissed, blocked, banished, and despised.
Pop-ups are far from the most beloved ecommerce email marketing tactic. They evoke a bothersome, in-your-face sales style: mixing invasive with annoying … to outright infuriating.
And yet, giving your visitors an easy, obvious, and incentivized opportunity to sign up for your email list fuels sustainable growth.
The problem lies not in pop-ups, but in poorly executed pop-ups. Namely, stuffing them into a one-size-fits-all solution, when near-limitless options for sophisticated — dare I say, delightful — targeting exist.
By testing a variety of methods through a proven checklist, you’ll be able to create pop-ups that target the right audience, offer the best incentives, and convert website visitors into strong leads to build your business.
Here’s the full rundown for crafting the best ecommerce pop-ups:
Pop-ups do not exist to drive traffic from your website to your email list. No, instead, they exist to turn website visitors into revenue and ultimately loyal customers.
However, since new email subscribers indicate the success of your pop-ups, we’ll start with the mechanics of email list building.
For anyone skeptical, the sign-up rates of high-performing pop-ups speak for themselves.
Anecdotally, we see sign-up rates for spin-to-win creative as high as 24%. A reasonable benchmark would be somewhere between 6% and 14% overall, depending on the style (design), quality of leads, and the incentive.
Trigger rules will greatly impact the number of impressions you can expect across your pop-ups, so our checklist will explore how to best attract your target audience in a manner that yields strong results and increases sales without burning out visitors or increasing bounce rates.
Before getting into best practices, let’s talk about technology.
Justuno has a lot of capability beyond the pop-up, with a robust design canvas and great integrations with a variety of other apps. Privy’s pop-up tool is comparable to Justuno. It was recently acquired by Attentive SMS, and while it’ll continue to operate as an independent entity, we predict even more integrated functionality as a result.
There are pros and cons to each digital marketing platform. Determining the best-fitting tool for your brand will require exploration.
Spend some time documenting your needs, wants, and nice-to-haves to help guide the vendor selection process .
How to choose your ecommerce pop-up platform …
Integration with your ESP and SMS
Most of the platforms in the Shopify ecosystem have easy-to-execute integrations. If you don’t have a dedicated developer on staff, or you’re paying for hourly support, this is important to verify.
Why is ease of integration so important? Because the ability to swiftly mix, match, and test is crucial to optimizing your approach.
Data collection and application
This ties back to integrations, especially for SMS programs. What data can be collected natively through the platform and how easily is it passed into your other systems?
Want to create email marketing campaigns one day for people who’ve seen and engaged with particular pop-ups? Track data from the onset to save your future self the headache of backfilling.
Wide range of pop-up displays
Some use cases call for a lightbox while others lend themselves to a banner or exit pop-up. Make sure your tool has a variety of displays and types of pop-ups to choose from.
Hoping to prevent people from prematurely leaving your store? Use an exit intent pop-up. Eager to convert first-time visitors? Try a lightbox with an incentive. Success lies in your ability to play with a number of solid choices until you hit the jackpot.
Flexible pop-up design canvas
So many elements impact the success of a pop-up, including the language, imagery, layout, colors, and even something as simple as the font. (Believe me — I’ve tested this!)
Looking to match your pop-up design to your other (successful) marketing campaigns? The ability to customize and tweak the layout and look and feel will allow you to really dial things in from a brand and performance perspective.
Variety of rules to create trigger recipes
Want your pop-up only to fire for returning visitors located in the US who saw a specific Facebook ad? Or maybe you want to track traffic from a particular influencer campaign?
That’s possible with certain platforms that track IP location, cookied traffic, and allow for firing based on UTM parameters. Consider how granular you’ll want to get and grill the platform sales teams on how to execute your wishlist.
Easy AB testing for optimization
With so many elements of the pop-up that can impact performance, being able to easily AB test your way to an optimized sign-up source is crucial.
Curious to go beyond surface-level testing? Aside from being able to test what’s on the pop-up, testing trigger timing and audiences is incredibly valuable. Make sure your platform can do that.
Templates and customer service
For resource-strapped, founder-led brands, find a partner who can set up pop-ups for you or at least offers a wide variety of templates to get you started.
What sort of templates? Don’t worry, we’ll cover a ton of examples later on.
Great customer support is a necessity as well — you don’t want to be left in a lurch if you can’t get the contacts to sync to your ESP or your pop-up fails to trigger during crucial high-volume periods. How do you test customer service? Check out third-party review sites and Reddit by searching for the platform name + service or support.
Additional functionality to consider
Some vendors offer more functionality in addition to pop-ups within the same platform, like notifications or marketing automation.
Justuno, for example, can power dynamic product recommendations on product pages or in the cart. It can also automatically sync your sign-up audiences to social media apps or search platforms for suppression or remarketing, depending on your goals and email capture strategies.
Once you’ve narrowed your options down based on all of the above, you have my blessing to use price as the determining factor.
Start by customizing pop-ups for first-time site visitors. New visitors should get different pop-ups than recurring customers.
Use UTM parameters, referral source, IP location, or cookied traffic to customize the pop-up content or incentive.
Maybe you’ll find a different incentive is compelling for new vs. returning visitors. Perhaps you see stronger sign-up rates and same session conversions when sign-up is requested after viewing multiple pages on the site. You can even use email open rates as a guiding factor for pop-up content.
Signup forms use a call to action (CTA) to guide customers to an email opt-in form. While many “experts” claim the best way to get a list of targeted leads is to buy it, if your CTA is strong enough, there’s no need to buy an ecommerce email list.
We’ll dive into examples of each type of incentive shortly. But here’s a brief rundown of each one, what it is, and its value:
For brands comfortable with the idea of discounts, 10-15% off or a dollar amount off can be highly effective.
Measure sign-up “success” all the way through the welcome series to understand how the incentive drives conversions and to evaluate how a slightly higher discount might impact margin to weigh the value.
If you’re losing an extra $5 per order by offering 15% off instead of 10% off, and the sign-up rate is only slightly higher, it may not be worth it in the long run.
Do giveaways yield strong sign-up rates? You know it! Do they bring you high-quality leads who will convert? Not consistently.
Aim to avoid giveaways that attract low-quality leads looking for a freebie. Instead, frame it as a one-for-one sweepstake featuring your hero product.
If you’re convinced a giveaway is the only way, feel free to test it yourself. Funnel all sign-ups from that source onto their own list so engagement and conversions can be measured over time as well as against other sign-up sources.
This also allows for more aggressive offboarding of non-engagers should you see the majority of sign-ups failing to generate results.
Free shipping and countdown timers
For brands with transparent pricing or high-end retailers that don’t want to diminish perceived value, free shipping is a great incentive to avoid discounting your products.
For visitors coming to your site for the second time, pivot the approach to add urgency with a countdown timer.
Set the timer for a relatively short period of time to give the user reason to sign up immediately before dismissing the overlay to shop around.
New products and exclusive offers
For some brands, just the offer of being the first to hear about new product releases or the enticing allure of social proof can work.
Even if you’re also offering a discount, describe some benefits of subscribing beyond the initial sign-up incentive — like early access to sales or product launches — to prime them to stay subscribed to fully reap the benefits.
Lead magnets, webinars, & content marketing
While more common for B2B brands, content upgrades, upsells, and cross-selling offerings from your blog are proven ways to capture engaged website visitors through SEO and (gently) guide them into your sales funnel.
Own a camping gear store? Create webinars for setting up a campsite. Selling emergency-preparation kits? Write a family meeting checklist to help parents kick off the conversation with their kids.
These incentives focus on brand building through educational resources rather than product-specific offers. It’s a great way to align your brand with your customers’ values.
When it comes to pop-ups, it’s important to be thoughtful about your approach.
Not only to avoid interrupting the shopping experience and turning off visitors, but also to ensure you’re bringing quality leads into your email and SMS program.
Use this proven checklist to build successful pop-ups for your ecommerce store.
Start with a slight time delay — 10-15 seconds — to allow visitors to get a feel for your brand and product before asking them to begin a relationship.
Take a look at the average time on site, especially for new users, to understand how much space you have here before users will naturally drop off to find the sweet spot for maximum reach.
Because pop-ups can be intrusive, it’s vital for the experience to be a positive one.
Making a pop-up easy to dismiss through a link, X out, or by clicking outside of the pop-up itself avoids interrupting the shopping experience or increasing bounce rates.
This is all the more true on mobile where wrongly sized pop-ups (impossible to escape) can cause even the most tech-savvy consumer to smash their phone in a fit of rage.
Hitting users with an interruptive interstitial every time they land on site or — worse yet — more than one time per visit will lead to unhappy shoppers and high bounce rates.
Leverage trigger rule configuration to set boundaries to only show one promotion per visit, and to leave space between display, maybe triggering only once every 7-10 days, depending on your audience, product assortment, and consideration phase.
Nothing makes you feel like a brand has no idea who you are like being served an invitation to sign up for email … after clicking through an email.
Most pop-up platforms allow for users who came to the site via an email to be suppressed from seeing the email collection pop-up.
Make sure this is enabled. Same goes for SMS.
Simply put, you should make it easy for users to connect with you how they want to connect with you.
Giving the option for email or SMS across device types makes this possible while also generating strong list growth across both programs.
With more and more brands adopting SMS programs, stores are increasingly ditching email collection on mobile devices in favor of collecting mobile numbers exclusively.
This practice is akin to leaving your email list to atrophy.
Retailers may see somewhere in the neighborhood of 70% of traffic on mobile devices. You’ll be leaving a lot of email list growth, and the resulting incremental revenue, on the table.
If you’re collecting both email and SMS, make email address required and mobile number optional.
Email is cheaper to execute and generally a more highly adopted channel at this point in time, so your reach will be greater and your ROI higher if you continue to focus on email collection.
Making SMS optional prevents you from losing out on email subscribers who just don’t want texts from brands.
For some brands just the offer of being the first to hear about new product releases can work. If your brand is open to incentives, start with something nominal.
Enough of a hook to be worthy of a shopper giving up their personal info, but not so much that it brings in your bargain or freebie seekers.
Providing an incentive like ~20% off (depending on your price point and AOV) or a chance to win a high-value item is likely to lead people to sign up who were otherwise not interested in shopping your product at its current price point.
Some retailers may be skeptical of interrupting the pre-Black-Friday shopping experience, but a pop-up that offers an enticing incentive to convert is welcomed by most consumers.
If you’ve got compelling discounts coming for the holiday (as you should), remove everything that isn’t Black Friday email marketing related.
Just remember to update your welcome flow accordingly.
Leaving the generic sign-up offer in place opens you up to stacking promotions that can kill already thin margins.
And don’t miss out on tailoring incentives for other holidays (like New Year’s or Valentine’s Day) or cultural events (like back-to-school or summer season). Use these events to strengthen brand persona and storytelling in pop-up form.
Creative is an element that should be tested, but a few best practices can guide you as you get set up:
Keep the pop-up high contrast. Dim or wash out the background to make it stand out and draw focus. This is especially important if your website is colorful or contains a lot of imagery to add contrast between the pop-up and the background behind it.
Make fields and CTAs easy to click and fill out. Ensure links to dismiss are nowhere near the submission button or fields to prevent accidentally closing them out if you fat-finger it.
The luxury of space on desktop gives more flexibility in design, but attempting to apply the same amount of content on mobile may render the pop-up unreadable or entirely useless.
Create pared-down mobile versions of pop-ups to ensure it renders correctly, can be read on smaller devices, and is easy to navigate with your thumbs.
This also allows for device-specific testing, and to utilize a more streamlined two-tap sign-up for SMS if applicable.
If you're collecting additional data, be sure it’s something like gender or category preference to allow for personalized merchandising in a welcome flow or future segmented pop-up campaigns.
This will drive a much more meaningful lift in engagement and conversions than something like first name.
The addition of too many fields of data can feel invasive to someone who is new to the brand. In fact, a recent study of 300 ecommerce brands found that conversion rates on forms dropped anywhere from 8-50% for each field added.
For most shoppers, additional fields look like too much work to complete and submit, leading to drop-offs in sign-up rates — so be sure that any extra data you’re asking them to provide will be worth it and well-utilized.
Do some research on the various compliance laws that impact your business based on where you do business and where your subscribers are coming from.
This is especially true for SMS, as TCPA violations can come with steep penalties of $500 to $1,500 per text message you send to a customer who either did not opt-in to your SMS marketing or unsubscribed, but wasn’t taken off your list.
More info on compliance here; we’re not lawyers:
Generally speaking, you can expect somewhere between 6% and 14% of users who see your pop-ups to sign up, depending on the creative style, quality of leads sourced, and the incentive on offer.
If you’re falling short, it’s time to start testing.
Aside from being able to test what’s on the pop-up — imagery, copy, and offer — testing trigger timing and audiences is incredibly valuable.
And be sure to run tests separately on desktop and mobile. What works best on a larger screen may not translate to strong performance on handheld devices.
A static form for email collection can account for as much as 10% of your total sign-ups in our experience. Be sure to add a sign-up form in the header or footer of your ecommerce site where shoppers are primed to seek out this content.
Test the sign-up experience after completing this form to ensure new contacts from this source are making it into the appropriate lists and welcome flows.
This pop-up triggers when a contact shows signs they intend to leave the site.
It’s an ideal alternative to serve to contacts who might not qualify for the site landing pop-up. Think, repeat visitors who recently saw the site landing pop-up.
Though they have the potential to be “annoying,” they’re also a way to attempt to stop someone from abandoning an active cart — and providing relevant, tailored content at exactly the right time can outweigh any annoyance.
Ask for sign-up at checkout to ensure you can keep in contact with new customers. But don’t assume anything.
Even at checkout, the email sign-up form checkbox should not be pre-checked — especially for visitors from Canada (per CASL) or the EU (per GDPR) to maintain compliance with applicable laws.
If you’re new to pop-ups or just want to revisit your approach, here are a few examples to get you started.
For visitors coming to your site for the first time, serve a lightbox with an incentive after 10 seconds. It will grab your visitors’ attention and likely yield strong results.
Suppress this from triggering for anyone who is coming from an email or SMS, and set the rules to trigger just once.
Theoretically, their status as a new visitor should cover you here. Still, given users can navigate from new devices, it’s best to add this layer of targeting.
For visitors coming to your site for the second time, pivot the approach to add urgency with a countdown timer.
These users have expressed enough interest to come back to your site for a second time, meaning they likely have some intent to buy and could use that discount or free shipping code.
Set the timer for a relatively short period of time to give the user reason to sign up immediately before dismissing the lightbox to shop around.
So the lightbox and the countdown timer didn’t get ‘em, but they’re still coming back. Let’s keep trying, but make it less intrusive.
Trigger a bottom banner asking for a sign-up — it’s easier to keep shopping but allows the incentive to stay front and center should they decide they want to convert this time.
Using a “sticky bar” means the pop-up can be hidden under the tab. So it’s easy for the user to move it out of the way while they shop, but always available.
When someone adds an item to their cart, we know they are high intent and we want that conversion.
If we don’t have an email or mobile number yet, and they don’t begin the checkout process to enter that info, we won’t be able to target them with an abandoned cart email or SMS flow.
Use exit intent pop-ups to halt abandonment and encourage a completed checkout.
Many brands have a checkbox for email signup in their Shopify online store checkout flow. The option is now available natively for SMS as well. Offering an incentive to check out shortens the path to first purchase, and ultimately gets us the signup anyway.
If you don’t want to give away margin unnecessarily here, test a simple reminder: Hey don’t forget the items in your cart.
Better yet, segment by cart value and give incentives for those high value carts you don’t want to let get away — and if you offer free shipping above a certain threshold, let users know if their cart qualifies, or how much more they need to spend if it doesn’t.
Add a form for email capture in either the header or footer. As a catchall, it provides an evergreen opportunity to collect emails for those who dismissed the pop-up.
On ColourPop’s website, there’s a box in the footer to enter your email address. The company focuses on relationship building to entice: Stay in touch to learn more about new products or deals.
A footer catchall leans on more passive engagement, presenting a constant option for email list building without promising any specific or targeted incentive.
Aside from collecting the obvious contact info from new subscribers, pop-ups can collect additional data points for personalization.
A great example is to collect something like gender or category preference to allow for personalized merchandising in a welcome flow or future segmented marketing campaigns. This will drive a much more meaningful lift in engagement and conversions.
Take Mott & Bow, for instance. Its homepage pop-up prompts visitors to identify the type of product they’re shopping for — — Men’s, Women’s, or Both.
After that, the incentive.
The question at the outset has a clutch benefit of gathering data on the prospect for future retargeting and personalization.
Personalization lives at the core of quiz invitation pop-ups. By getting information about your customers’ on hand from the jump, you build an acquisition strategy anchored in retention.
Our case study with Bambu Earth presents the perfect example. Its ads and onsite pop-ups both send prospects to a skin quiz landing page to answer questions about their skin health, lifestyle, and goals.
After finishing the quiz, customers receive a custom product recommendation based on their results.
With the quiz and starter kit lander, Bambu Earth delivers an enriching, value-filled experience even before the prospect spends anything on its Shopify site. The focus is on the user and creating a unique experience personal to them.
Spin to win pop-ups outperform all other ecommerce pop-ups when it comes to conversion rates. There’s something alluring about these gamified modules.
Everything from the color of the wheel to the offers presented should speak to your brand identity and customer persona.
A quick tip: For spin to win or other gamified modules, make the winning discount the highest on the board. I don’t want to see a slice for 20% off and then be served 10% off. (It makes me feel like a loser.)
In general, avoid giveaways or very deep discounts that attract low-quality leads looking for a freebie.
If you’re really convinced that a giveaway is the only way, feel free to test it yourself. Funnel all sign-ups from that source onto their own list so engagement and conversions can be measured over time as they compare to other sign-up sources.
This also allows for more aggressive off boarding of non-engagers should you see the majority of sign-ups failing to generate results.
FC Goods presents a nice example of a freebie pop-up. The incentive is a giveaway for a free wallet.
Without an incentive to grease the wheels, there’s little reason for customers to check their inboxes. They probably won’t hear right away if they’ve won. Nonetheless, it’s compelling.
Our Place, on the other hand, tells visitors exactly when to expect the results: “We’re giving away a pan a day.”
Loyalty programs center their strategy on retention. Hyping up membership perks, exclusive offers, and access to rewards all work to incentivize would-be loyal customers.
COAST Portland offers a robust membership to keep shoppers coming back for more gear.
Its loyalty program features general incentives — like exclusive deals and rewards — in addition to personalized offerings for products like expedited warranty service and referral bonuses.
It’s clear this loyalty program was built around actual loyal customers, making the perks all the more unique and effective.
By now, you should be pumped on pop-ups.
They’re one of the many hurdles in ecommerce marketing that seem daunting at first but morph into a fun-filled, creative, and compelling way to engage with customers.
Once you understand the end goal — hyper-targeted ecommerce email (and SMS) list building — you can work backward to test pop-up incentives and creatives that resonate with your customers.
In essence, strategic pop-ups and incentives carve the clearest path for ecommerce email list building, giving you stronger leads, more engaged website visitors, and a better understanding of customer motivation.
Grab our checklist to start testing your own pop-ups today and fine-tune an email marketing strategy that customers can’t resist.
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Cassidy Monforte is the Retention Strategy Manager at Common Thread Collective. Based in Portland, Oregon, she has spent the last nine years exploring how to use owned channels, primarily email and SMS, to improve both subscriber experience and lifetime value. Cassidy can be found on Twitter and LinkedIn talking all things food, dogs, and ecommerce.