Should I Use Pop Ups on my Online Store?

To pop up or not to pop up? That is the question.

I’m not talking about those sites that open ten new windows in your browser, sound a red alert alarm, and won’t allow you to leave without dumping a mug of hot coffee on your keyboard. Instead I am talking about these little guys:


An effective pop up window example.

While these types of pop ups have become renowned as big annoyances, they can have a significant impact on your conversion rates. Which means bringing in revenue that you would have otherwise lost.

Don’t Fear the Pop Up

First, I’d like to address the immediate knee-jerk reaction that I hear every time I mentioned popups.

UGH those annoying things that show up while I’m trying to read a site?! — Everyone

Yes, those things. Well…not exactly. Many internet marketers have taken it upon themselves to ensure that they abuse popups in every way possible. Even large media outlets are fraught with popups that appear from all sides of the browser, covering up the content you are trying to read. We are all bothered by those tactics.

However, just because there are a few bad drivers out there doesn’t mean you should avoid buying a car. Sparse, respectful use of pop ups can give your e-commerce site a major boost in conversions and subscribers.

Different Types of Pop Ups

There are a few common types of popups used and you’ve likely experienced most of them. Each has its own purpose, and I will explain which one of these is most effective for e-commerce sales.

  • On Entry – these appear immediately when a user visits your site
  • Exit Intent – the popup is displayed when a user is detected to be leaving the site
  • Time-based – appears after a set period of time
  • Activity-based – shows after a specific action like clicking a link. Sometimes based on lack of activity (if a visitor is sitting on your page but hasn’t moved their mouse or scrolled around)
  • Scroll-based – when a visitor scrolls far enough down the page it will appear

You can get creative with these too: showing them if a user follows a specific path through the site, using different types for different pages, or tracking how the visitor arrived at your site.

Why They Are Effective

Let’s get the facts out of the way: pop ups are effective, plain and simple. Copyblogger,, and a plethora of other blogs have shared how pop ups increased their readership and sales. This article goes over the psychological reasons of why they are so effective.

Better yet, it can be summed up in a single chart from a study done at Penn State University:


Orientation Response Chart

This chart shows a user’s “orientation response”, which is an individuals immediate response to a change in their environment. In this study a pop up ad was shown to participants after a period of time. As you can see in this chart, there was a significant response from the reader when the popup appeared at 5 seconds.

So the question of pop ups shouldn’t be “are they effective”, rather “how can I use them without annoying my customers”?

Using Pop Ups Without Annoying Your Customers

Defining a strategy around where, when, and how you use popups is going to depend on your individual goals. It also depends on how it fits into your larger marketing strategy. That said, I am a strong advocate of using exit-intent pop ups for e-commerce sites.

Marketing is all about understanding your customer’s intentions, motivations, and behaviors. The more you can understand them, the better you can serve them. Which of course equates to more sales. What exit-intent pop ups do is give us a clear understanding of a customer compared to visitors that are actively browsing your site. In addition to knowing they were about to leave, we also know:

  • what pages they have viewed on the site
  • what page they were on when they decided to leave
  • if they are a new or returning customer

Using that information we can give them an incentive to complete their order. If they are on the shipping page perhaps we offer free shipping. If they are on the checkout page we can offer an instant discount. If they are on a product page we can offer add-on items for free as a thank you for being a new customer.

As mentioned above, the biggest hesitation to using pop ups is a fear of annoying users so that they leave the site in a hurry and vow to never return. Exit-intent pop ups do not suffer from this risk. Why?

Because they were already leaving your site! If they see the popup and grumble about how pop ups are destroying the internet on their way out, there is no harm done. They were already leaving, so that does not effect your revenues. Yet, for those customers that were truly on the fence, an offer of something valuable (like a discount or free shipping) could lead to one more sale that you wouldn’t have made otherwise.

So why pop up and not some other method? An exit-intent pop up checks all the boxes:

  • Effective immediately since customers are already on your site
  • Does not require the customer to provide information, such as their email address
  • Can be targeted based on the customer’s history and behavior
  • Incentive offers are only shown to customers that are about to leave, which means you are not giving away discounts to users that would be making a purchase anyway
  • You have control over when, how, and where to display the pop ups

To Pop Up or Not to Pop Up?

Every business has a unique mission made up on unique individuals, values, and goals. Used with moderation and great consideration, pop up panels can have a significant effect on your conversion rate. It can also build a larger audience for non-buyers if they are subscribing to your newsletter or sales offers via email.

In conjunction with other follow-up strategies to capture abandoned carts, these pop ups can ensure you are not closing doors to new customers. I encourage every e-commerce business, whether a boutique store, a membership site, or a nonprofit, to consider pop ups and how they might help you grow your audience and increase your online sales.

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