The Anatomy of Ecommerce Email Popups: How to do what Works

There are a million and one ways to capture visitor emails in ecommerce settings. You can use embedded email forms, overlays, popups, exit-intent offers (those are popups that open the second that the visitor is leaving) and more.

Popups, in particular, are getting more and more popular among merchants because, well, they work. This article will look at real life examples of different popups that merchants are running. We’ll examine not only the popups themselves but also what happens after you’ve given a site your email.

The building blocks of a successful email popup

The first thing you need to think about when designing a killer email popup is the offer — what are you promising in return for your visitor’s email address?

There are numerous things that you can offer, from a set percentage or dollars off to free shipping, different buying guides, and more.

Looking at data on email popups, the offer itself doesn’t seem to play a big role in the effectiveness of the popup. Merchants utilizing popups for email capture have found success using percentage off offers, by organizing competitions as well as simply saying “learn about sales, promos, and new products.”

So, first decision — what is your offer?

Your next big decision is about timing. When should the popup be displayed? Do you display the offer the second that a visitor lands on your page? Do you wait 5-10 seconds to give them time to browse around a little? Create different offers depending on which sections of your store they are on?

Your best bet is to test this out yourself. Set up A/B tests whereby the offer is displayed at different times and on different pages and then analyze and use that data to come up with a ”winning” time and offer.

Design, look, and feel 

Generally speaking, an email popup/overlay consists of three elements:

  • A headline and/or body copy -> that’s the offer!
  • An email field
  • A clickable CTA

It takes those three elements working together to make an email popup work. On its own, a killer headline/copy is no guarantee for success. Neither is the best CTA in the industry. Everything on the popup has to make sense for the intended audience.

There is no best or worst way to design the popup or a list of keywords that are proven to convert every single time. It all depends on what you sell and who your audience is. There’s no getting around doing your own testing to see what works best for you.

You can play around with colors, dimensions, use of imagery, different fonts and font sizes, the copy of the CTA button (“Submit”, “Download Now”, “Sign Me Up”, “Get The Code”, “Enter To Win” etc), form field label placement (inline, above the field, left, right) and more.

Design examples

Now that we know what goes into an email popup, let’s take a look at examples from around the web that different merchants are using to capture emails.

Laconicum, a Spanish beauty products merchant, uses a clean, simple popup that invites visitors to join the newsletter for “promotions and latest news”:

Screenshot via Laconicum

Pure Cycles accomplishes the same goal, building an email list, with a slightly different approach. When you arrive at the site, you’re greeted with the following:

Screenshot via Pure Cycles

After clicking “YES I agree with this,” the following is shown:

Screenshot via Pure Cycles

While I personally don’t like popups with a “positive” and a “negative” button (mainly because the “negative” option is almost always in the vein of I know everything and don’t need any help), they have shown to convert at the very least on the same level with normal popups. So, you know, just try it out.

Apart from simply asking for visitors email in exchange for things (discounts, free shipping, guides, ebooks etc), there are also other more creative ways to achieve the same goal. Take Click and Grow as an example. They are essentially running a competition, but disguising it as a short survey on growing your own fresh food. Brilliant.

Screenshot via Click and Grow

Don’t forget the thank you page / popup

One thing we haven’t covered yet is what happens after the visitors has clicked the CTA and given permission to use their email.

At first glance, the thank you page/popup can seem like an afterthought. The main goal of getting that all important email address is done, why bother with thank you pages, right?


The thank you page is important. Recently I was shopping around for a new bicycle and arrived at Pure Cycles where I was greeted with this popup:

A pretty standard looking way to ask for an email address. After entering my email and clicking on the button I was greeted with this:

Their thank you was to send me back to the landing page. No mention of email signup, no mention of anything really.

Did it work? Did they get my email? No idea. There’s nothing on that page that reaffirms that they indeed they got my information and that everything is ok. Not good.

And even if you do include a thank you page/popup, put some work into it and don’t just use the box standard one that your email marketing company of choice provided you with:

Not only does this one look “ugly,” it also doesn’t even mention the name of store anywhere — “Website newsletter — shopify 15.07.03” really doesn’t say anything and could easily be mistaken for a wrong click or some weird looking ad.

And finally, when you have designed a proper thank you page, make sure that it’s actually viewable on most devices.

Tortuga promised that if I signed up, they’ll send me a carry-on packing list, but the thank you page doesn’t mention that at all:

Well, actually, the thank you page does mention the carry-on packing list, but you’ll have to scroll below the fold to see the rest of text. Most of the page is covered by a huge picture blocking the other half of the actually useful text.

Initially I thought that maybe it’s just my laptop, so I checked with different screen resolutions (and sizes) and on mobile devices — same story. The picture always makes you scroll. That’s not very user-friendly and could potentially cost you subscribers.

The thank you page/popup doesn’t need to be something amazing or fancy looking, it can be something as simple as  “Thank you. To complete your subscription, click on the email link we just sent you”:

Or like this one from Beau Ties:

Or this one from Click and Grow:

They all let me know that indeed the sign-up was successful and give me all the details that I need. Those could include double opt-in notification, the promised guide/list/e-book, information on next steps when subscribing to a competition etc. Simple things.

Final thoughts

Success with email popups can be achieved in more than one way. There’s no standard that is guaranteed to work or the best time to display it. It all comes down to you putting in the work and coming up with a solution that for your store with your audience.

Design, test, iterate.

Design, test, iterate.

One thing I’d keep an eye on when using popups with different offers is to see if the type of offer makes a difference in the customer’s lifetime value (LTV) and future buying behavior. That’s something that could play a role in deciding what’s the best strategy to follow. The version with the most new sign-ups might very well end up drawing in potential customers with the lowest LTV and vice versa.


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