Email pop ups on ecommerce sites: do they work?

I’ve noticed a trend recently in the use of pop-ups by ecommerce sites. Pop-ups are nothing new, but they seem to be used more widely than ever. 

They’ve long been popular on blogs and vendor sites. For example, head to Neil Patel’s blog, or a site like KISSmetrics and you’ll see one soon enough, asking you to sign up for a trial, or perhaps a webinar.

However, ecommerce sites have tended to avoid too many pop-ups, presumably as they constitute an interruption to the user journey.

Indeed, if you’re mid product search or busy looking at the product page, they can be an annoyance.

Lately, more and more sites are using pop-ups to build their email lists, serving them up to users as they enter and browse the site.

My first instinct is to condemn them as an interruption to the user experience, but that would be too easy. So, let’s see if they work.

Email pop-up examples

Here on Modcloth, this comes up as soon as I select a product category.

It’s an annoyance, though perhaps the offer of a $20 discount helps to overcome this.

email signup popup

Other sites seem to serve these pop-ups too quickly.

Try heading to Gap. In less than a second this pop-up takes over your screen.

Gap email popup

It’s a decent offer, but it comes up too quickly, covers a lot of the page, and it isn’t immediately obvious what you need to do to close it.

I wonder how many visitors hit the back button at this point?

However, they can and do work

I’m all for great user experience but, as with some other intrusive ad formats, these pop-ups can work.

In fact, here’s a bunch of case studies from Crazy Egg which provide plenty of evidence for this.

They may interrupt the user, but by doing so they force them to make a yes/no decision. Indeed, they have to interrupt to work effectively. They can also be tweaked and tested very easily.

There’s lots to test, including placement, size and timing. On the latter, some studies suggest that five seconds is the sweet spot.

It makes sense, as it’s not too quick so as to annoy users the instant they arrive, but soon enough so that they aren’t distracted by other site features.

email popup timing chart

Here’s an example from navabi. Try it out, you’ll see it appears after five seconds in the centre of the screen.

It doesn’t take over the whole page and it’s obvious how to close it. The copy also provides a compelling incentive to sign up:

navabi email popup

In addition, if the user clicks to go elsewhere on the site, then no pop-up will be served. This means the risk of interrupting them while they are selecting products is minimised.

The retailer has tested various versions. The previous one appeared on the second page visited by the user, in a less prominent position at the bottom of the screen.

As Catherine Reuter, Email Marketing Manager at navabi says, this version has delivered results:

We’ve found that the offer is important, the timing is important, and the placement is important. We try not to interrupt the customer too much, but to place the popup so that they definitely see it, and we give them the choice of responding to a strong offer or carrying on with their journey.

Testing is definitely important, and the changes from our last version to the current test have meant 2.5x more emails gathered in the UK, 2x in France, and 3x in Germany so far.

In summary

Yes, these pop-ups are interruptive, and they have to be to force users to interact with them. But they can work.

However, it’s not enough just to plonk these pop-ups on your site. Successful implementation depends on testing the timing, placement and copy contained within.

It should also be relatively easy for users that aren’t interested to close them and carry on browsing. If they force users to abandon your site, they may be counter-productive.

Related reading

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