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The Complete Guide to Website Push Notifications for E-commerce

Website push notifications are clickable messages that are sent by a website to their subscribers’ browsers. They work very similarly to mobile app push notifications (notifications sent by a mobile app that land in your notification tray) except that they work on websites instead of apps and can be accessed on all devices (desktop, mobile, tablet, etc).

In this article, we’re going to take a look at website push notifications in the E-commerce space. We’re going to discuss why E-commerce players cannot afford to ignore website push notifications, how they work and how to optimize your push notification campaigns to deliver great results for your online store. Let’s start!

Why use Website Push Notifications

A brief look at the communication channels for E-commerce

E-commerce businesses use a variety of ways to grow their traffic i.e. new visitors, as well as engage with their existing traffic i.e. the folks who have already visited your website. These include exploring various communication channels – email, social media, SMS, push notifications (both websites and apps); it also involves employing these channels in different kinds of campaigns to reach and engage users. Let us take a brief look at each of these channels and try to understand where they prove useful.


Email is most commonly used to deliver curated product suggestions, advertise upcoming sales and discount offers, ask for product reviews, recover abandoned carts, deliver transactional information such as order confirmation, tracking details, etc.

The main advantage of email marketing is that it has a wide reach – a study by The Radicati Group reveals that there are currently 2.6 billion email users, which means that more than 1 out of 3 people have an email account. Another very important advantage is that an email stays in the inbox, accessible anytime, unlike social media messages and notifications, which are harder to access later (or even impossible). This is particularly useful for delivering important information like order and tracking details.

Where email marketing misses out, however, is the ability to deliver time-sensitive information. According to Zipstripe, the average time for email recipients to view an email message is 6.4 hours. This means that email is not effective for sending time-bound emails, such as coupons with a tight redemption period, or important actionable information such as “Your package is out for delivery”.

Social Media

Social media networks (Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram) work better than email marketing when it comes to delivering short-time offers and discounts since people spend more time on social media websites than on any other online activity. So, what’s the problem? It’s the problem of engagement. What this means is that social media is not very effective for messages designed to achieve a specific purpose in a specific time, since so few of your audience will actually react to that message. Instead, social media is better employed as a means to establish your brand and build a relationship with your audience.


SMS is effective if you want your user to read your message very quickly – 90% of SMS messages are read within the first 3 minutes. This makes it useful for communicating important business-information like “Your cab is arriving” or “Your item will be delivered today”.

SMS should not be used for information that the user will need to access later, such as receipts. SMS messages are difficult to search later on. Another disadvantage of SMS messages is that they can only contain a maximum of 160 characters, which drastically limits the kind of communications you can have through SMS.

Push Notifications (Mobile apps)

Push notifications are the default way by which mobile apps communicate. It scores over email for promotional content in that it delivers messages in real-time and it has also reported higher response rates compared to email.

It is tempting to think of app push notifications and SMS as the same but they have crucial differences – the opt-in/opt-out options in app push notifications give the user greater control over what kind of messages he/she wants to receive. SMS on the other hand often comes unsolicited and it is harder for the user to disable. Because of this, SMS is often perceived to be a lower messaging medium.

Where does Website Push Notifications fit into the picture

Website push notifications fit into a very unique spot in this entire spectrum. It differs from mobile app push notifications in that while app push notifications are limited to mobile devices and tablets, website push notifications also covers desktops. Desktop usage still accounts for a good portion of total internet time. Web push notifications deliver the power of real-time push notifications to these internet users.

Another point that makes website push notifications very important for E-commerce is the cost factor. Building a quality app is an expensive affair and sometimes the ROI can be difficult to justify. In fact, for small and medium-sized companies, mobile websites may reach more people than mobile apps do. This makes website push notifications more critical since it gives businesses the ability to send push notifications without investing in an app.

All in all, it can be seen that website push notifications are an important channel for E-commerce since it gives websites the power of instant communication via websites and that too on all devices, be it desktop mobile or tablet.

How do Website Push Notifications work

By default, whenever you install a mobile app, you give the app the permission to send you push notifications on your device. Websites, however, have to explicitly take permission from their users to send them push messages. This is how website push notifications work:

The first step is getting opt-in from visitors. As soon as someone arrives on a website, an opt-in box is triggered. If the visitor clicks on “Allow”, he/she is added to your subscriber list.


Opt-in modal box

As soon as a ‘visitor’ becomes a ‘subscriber’, you can send them push notifications from your website. The title message and the text message are customizable within certain character limits and a URL has to be specified. These notifications will arrive in real-time even if the browser is not open at that point in time. Clicking on the notification will take the subscriber to the URL specified.


How the notifications look

Optimizing Push Notifications

Now that we’ve established the importance of push notifications and how they work, it’s time to take a look into how to optimize your push notifications to drive more sales from your existing subscribers. This section is divided into the following subsections – writing great push notification copy, when to send a push notification, how frequently should you send push notifications, using segmentation to send personalized notifications and, lastly, what metrics to track.

Copywriting for Push Notifications

Since push notifications impose character limits on the title as well as the message, the copywriting becomes that much more important since you have to squeeze your message into a small package while still retaining its effectiveness.

Whenever you are writing the title and message text for a push notification, the most important thing to keep in mind is that the purpose of the copy is to get subscribers to click. For that, your copy needs to, above all, provide some value to the subscriber. People will only click on the notification if they find it valuable.

Here are a few tips you can follow:

  • Be clear in what you are saying – Your subscribers have busy schedules and do not have time for vague messages. Do not test their patience by making them think. A clear message will have a greater click rate by the very virtue of the fact that it is action-oriented. In a fight between “Have you read Jeffrey Archer’s latest?” and “Jeffrey Archer’s latest novel available for purchase”, I’ll always go for the latter because it is clearer in its message as opposed to the former.
  • Be crisp in your copy – Different platforms have different character limits for push notifications but all of them fall in the range of 40-120 characters. Thus, it is very important for you to be very concise in what you are saying. This often means that you need to identify the one most important value proposition of your message and let that shine through in the notification copy.
  • Use scarcity to create urgency – According to Dr. Robert Cialdini, author of Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, we are more motivated by the idea of potential loss than of potential gain. That is, if we find that an opportunity is closing, we want it that much more. This is also known as FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out).
    You can use this psychological principle when you write your push notification copy. For example, if you have a sale coming up for your online store, try sending a push notification that says something like, “Flash Sale! 12 hours only”.
  • Use Social Proof – IBM’s marketing slogan in the 80s, “No one ever got fired for buying IBM”, is one of the most powerful marketing phrases ever created. This is one of the most powerful examples of social proof, where the company used the tendency of people to go along the established route.
    In push notifications, social proof can be used to increase the click rate. For example, you can write something like, “4000 marketers have already registered for this event” if you want people to register for an event or “This post has more than 1000 Twitter shares” if you want subscribers to click through to a blog post.
    Keep in mind, though, that this is not the 80s and internet users have access to all the information they need on their fingertips. Thus, it is important to not go overboard with claims and only write stuff that is credible.

When to send Push Notifications

Website Push Notifications, by their very nature, require an instant response on the part of the receiver. This makes timing all the more important. A classic mistake when sending push notifications is not taking into account the time zone your subscribers are located in. To fix this, you need to have a clear understanding of how your subscribers are spread around the globe and be very particular that each time zone receives the message at an appropriate time. It’s definitely more complicated than sending out a notification in a single batch, but that’s the kind of effort that is required in this highly-personalized environment. For example, you don’t want to end up with this notification when the stars are twinkling, do you?


A wrong time to send this notification is another thing that you need to consider because different kinds of notifications work at different times of the day. If you are sending a promotional message, you want your users to be in a restful state of mind so that they have the mental bandwidth to check out your offer. Choosing to send something funny and light-hearted? Go for the afternoon, when people are feeling bored in the office and want something to crack them up.

How Frequently to Send

Probably the most important thing to consider as you scale up your push notification campaigns is the frequency of your messages. Since push notifications is a high-engagement communication channel, you need to be really careful not to inundate your subscribers with more notifications that they can handle.

Since website push notifications are a fairly new technology, there is no data out there on optimal frequency. At this stage, you need to carefully monitor your click rates, time on page, bounce rate and opt-outs after every push notification to find out which frequency works best for your audience.

Using Segmentation to Send Personalized Notifications

As E-commerce marketers, personalized messages are nothing new for us. We all know that they work. However, it is doubly critical to not follow the spray-and-pray approach when it comes to website push notifications, simply because opting-out is so easy and there is no way for you to get those unsubscribers back unless they change their settings. For example, this guy is totally opting-out after receiving this notification.


A poorly personalized push notification: E-commerce players, therefore, need to categorize their subscribers into different buckets that are as narrowly defined as possible. One way of doing this is to ask subscribers for preferences at the time of opting-in. Another very effective way is to go for behavioral segmentation i.e. putting subscribers into different segments based on their on-page activities like the type of pages viewed, number of views of a particular page, etc. For example, if I’ve been checking out books in the spy thriller genre lately, the store should mark me as someone who’s interested in the genre and send me a notification whenever something new is published in that category.

What Metrics to Track

The most immediate metric that comes to mind when thinking website push notifications is click rate. This is how many people clicked on the notification as a percentage of the number of people to whom that notification was delivered.

However, just focusing on this one metric can lead your analysis astray. Instead, you should strongly focus on the business goals you deem most important, which in this case would be sales (primary goal) and visits to the checkout page, and add to cart (secondary goals). Tag your notification links with the proper UTM parameters and then sift through the data in Google Analytics and other analytics tools you are using to find out how many people arriving on your website via push notifications are actually performing the above actions. This is the only way that you will be able to determine whether website push notifications are working for you or not.

That’s it! This covers almost everything you need to know as you start with website push notifications for your online store. Just remember – keep listening to what your audience is trying to say and keep iterating on the basis of that!

About the Author: Anand Kansal works at PushCrew, a tool that enables websites to send push notifications on desktops, mobiles, and tablets. He tweets about push notifications and online marketing in general at @PushCrewHQ.

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