← Research

In-App and Push Notifications: The Key to Increasing Ecommerce Customer Engagement

Is engagement with your ecommerce app where you’d like it to be?

For most app owners, the answer is always going to be that they could have more engagement, but therein lies an enormous challenge. You’re competing with the millions of other apps out there for attention and this all adds up to a lot of noise for users.

There are some proven methods for boosting that vital engagement though, with the use of push notifications and in-app messaging among them.

What are these and how can you use them to boost engagement? Let’s take a look:

What makes an effective in-app message? Get our quick guide here

In-app vs. push notifications

First of all, let’s look at what each of these types of messaging are and how they are different to one another. In-app messaging refers to notifications that are displayed within the app while the user is actively using it. They are usually designed to be very contextual and to help guide users through some important point about the app.

For example, within an ecommerce app, you might have in-app messaging pop up to remind a user how many dollars away they are from the free shipping level in their shopping cart. This is often a good prompt for them to look for something else and avoid the shipping fee.

Push notifications, on the other hand, allow you to deliver messages straight to the home screen of a user’s phone, whether they are currently using the app or not. Unlike in-app messages, users choose whether or not to accept push notifications. This, in itself, is a challenge to app owners because up to 60% of users opt out of push notifications.

We’re going to look at both in-app messaging and push notifications individually, along with a few statistics on usage and efficacy, but what we’d highlight here is that both are excellent tools for improving engagement with your app.

In-app messaging best practices

There is data to back up how effective in-app messaging can be to boost engagement within apps. Ecommerce apps are no exception – messaging works, as long as you use it well. Here are some key statistics from Localytics:

  • In-app messages increase app launches by 27%
  • In-app messaging boosts engagement by 3x average
  • In-app messages that are triggered by an event in-app can increase conversions by 4x

On the other side of the coin, if you aren’t strategic and careful about how you use in-app messaging, you can simply annoy app users and not see the benefit of a rise in engagement. Here are a few best-practice tips:

Be strategic about use of in-app messaging - you don’t want to turn users off Click To Tweet

Think about multi-channel strategy

Push notifications can be turned off and email lists can be unsubscribed from, so it’s a good idea to use in-app messaging to support what you are doing through those other channels. It’s about consistency and delivering an overall experience that makes sense to the user.

In-app messages are the ones that every user will see as long as they actively use the app. This is your chance to cement your marketing strategy, but don’t blow it by making any of the mistakes we’re looking at further down…

Use customer segmentation

It’s important that the messages you send are kept relevant to the user, otherwise, they’ll tune out. Rather than blast a message to every user, make sure you take the time to segment your audience and send out only messages that will be useful and relevant to them.

For example, if you’ve got an important new feature, this might be a good thing to message all users about, but if you’ve got a sale on dog food, only your dog owners may be interested. (Tip: You can track these types of preferences through browsing and purchasing history.)

Use to successfully onboard new users

Sometimes new users need a bit of a push to figure out exactly how the app works and how to get the best from it. In-app messages can be a great way to present either a guided onboarding, or a progressive onboarding that brings up relevant messages as specific actions have been completed. Large numbers of users abandon ecommerce apps altogether. Google found that while 38% will download an app if necessary

to complete a purchase, more than half will then immediately delete it. Of course, there are also large numbers of people who do intentionally download an app, then simply never open it again.

When a user enters your app, you usually get that one opportunity to demonstrate the value of your app, and messaging to guide them through onboarding can greatly assist with this. Let them know how features work and specifically how your app can be valuable to them.

As another tip here, not everyone will want to take a guided onboarding, so if you do use this strategy, allow them an option to skip it or “look at it later.” There’s nothing more annoying than being forced through several messages and screens!

Personalize your messages

In-app messaging should be relevant to the particular user who is seeing the message, which is what we were talking about when we discussed segmenting your customers. You can take this a step further by sending messages that are personal to the user.

For example, let’s say you run a rewards program with your ecommerce app; you might take the opportunity the next time the user enters your app to pop up a message saying “Congratulations [Name]! You’ve been awarded $10 towards your next purchase of $50 or more!”

Users can quickly become numb to messaging if they see too many that are of no relevance to them.

Be concise and engaging

You don’t have a lot of room to display an in-app message, and trying to cram too much into a small space will turn people off. The key here is in your copywriting. How can you deliver something, short, sweet, and engaging to the user? How will you guide them to take the action you want them to?

Use visual clues

A wall of text might be skipped over, but the use of images or emojis can help to get the message across much better. Posts with images have 650% higher engagement than text-only posts, and a study on push-notifications found that use of an emoji could boost their opens by 85%.

We’d suggest including a good-quality image of a particular product you’re talking about, or use an emoji that is very relevant (for example, using a snow sports emoji when you’re talking about your sale on winter gear).

Push notification best practices

Users who opt-in to your push notifications tend to be among your highest value customers. These users engage with your app on a regular basis 88% more than those who don’t opt in for the notifications. Here are some other important statistics you should know:

  • 75% of app users churn within 90 days
  • Where push notifications are enabled, 65% return to the app within 30 days

The question now becomes, how can you encourage more users to opt-in for your push notifications and keep their attention once they’ve opted in? It’s clear that you have a better chance of retaining those who opt in, but you’ve got to be careful not to annoy them with push notifications either.

David Pearce had this to say in an article for Wired:

“Push notifications are ruining my life. Yours too, I bet. Download more than a few apps and the notifications become a non-stop, cacophonous waterfall of nonsense.”

“Turn them all off!” was David’s advice, but of course, as the owner of an ecommerce app, that’s the last thing you want your users to be doing. This means that you don’t want to be part of the “cacophonous waterfall of nonsense,” you want to be adding a valuable service to the lives of your users.

Let’s look at a few best practices for ecommerce apps:

Encourage opt-ins

Your first hurdle is getting users to opt in initially. Our tips here are to think about both the timing of your request and how you’re going to communicate the value of signing up to your users.

Let’s think about this for a minute. Say you’ve just downloaded a new app and you’re opening it for the first time if a message asking you to accept push notifications pops up immediately, will you accept it, or dismiss the message? You’re more than likely to choose the “don’t allow” option because, at this point, you don’t even know the app.

Your timing should be logical when you make the request. Perhaps you trigger it after an action from the user whereby accepting push notifications would be a logical step. For example, if they’re browsing a category or adding items to their cart, you might have a message pop up that invites them to receive notifications of sales on those items.

This leads to the second tip – communicating the value of signing up. There are plenty of apps out there that still blast out a generic “Accept push notifications” message with no reason given as to why the user should. Give them an idea of why those notifications could be valuable to them.

Find those “mobile moments”

“Mobile moments” can be described as those key times when a user is out and about and using his or her mobile device. If you set it up right, you can catch the user in a very timely fashion so that the notification is relevant to where they’re at right now.

For example, Krispy Kreme’s “Hot Light” app lets nearby app users know when there’s a batch of donuts fresh out of the oven. Retailers might use this same technology to recognize when a user is in-store and send a notification of store specials.

Here’s another thought from Mashable, proposing that ecommerce app owners create their own mobile moments to combat cart abandonment:

“To keep that money from going down the drain, you should notify users that they have items sitting in their shopping cart, at the optimal time, based on algorithms that identify when the user is most likely to use the app. Brands have told Leanplum that they’ve increased revenue up to 17% using this predictive technique.”

Think about frequency and timing

One question that is good to ask yourself is, what turns users off push notifications? Among the possible answers to this (yes, there are a few), are reasons like sending too many notifications or sending poorly timed notifications.

To understand what will work for your user base, it’s best that you get to know them well as no one audience is the same as the next. What are the expectations of your audience? One way around this that app developers have used is to put in place a preferences center, so that users can pick and choose the sorts of notifications they want to receive.

Timing should be considered in terms of when your audience is most active on their phones. If you’re always buzzing me during the 9am meeting at work, I’m probably going to turn off notifications!

Make your content useful and personalized

Another answer to the question of why users get turned off push notifications is because they receive too many messages that are irrelevant to them. If I’m a woman who, from my browsing history you can tell I’m interested in makeup and women’s clothing, why would you send me a notification about a sale on men’s shoes? (Note: Base your messages on what you know are the interests of the person, not an assumption based on gender!)

Customers now have greater expectations of more personalized service because technology has gotten us to this point. Make sure any content you’re sending out is useful, interesting, empathetic, and motivates the user to take some sort of action.

Use deep linking

Deep linking is where you include hyperlinks in your messaging that will take the user to the relevant section of the app. This requires some knowledge to create (it is not as simple as straight website hyperlinks), but they are a great strategy because it means the user doesn’t have to search around for the right place in the app themselves.

You can guide your audience to exactly where you’d like them to go by including these deep links in your messaging. For example, if you’re announcing a sale on bird baths, you can include a link directly to the product category or page.

Get our quick guide to effective in-app messages here

Use to boost your own engagement

In-app messaging and push notifications can be a huge engagement boost for ecommerce apps wanting retain more users, or keep more users active.

While in-app messaging will always be seen by users, push notifications are optional so it’s even more important to give users good reason to want to accept them. Time your request right and demonstrate why they will be of value.

Overall for both types of messaging, timing and relevance are both key. You need to strike the balance between sending out just enough messages to get results, but not so many that you turn people off. You also need to ensure that those messages will be considered to be of value by the users who receive them.

Try out both types of messaging and implement a few best practices to do so. We hope you will see a boost in engagement in return!

Author: Emily Gomez & Einar Vollset, Corresponding Author:


For each teardown we collect over 200 data points, including UX best practices, search capabilities, payment integrations as well as re-engagement tactics and social/engagement features. Each teardown includes an overall score, along with the score for each of the 20+ categories we collect data under. We then provides either video and/or slideshow content of the actual app, highlighting important parts of the app along with particularly good, bad or surprising functionality.