Understanding Push Notifications for Ecommerce: Complete Guide

Understanding Push Notifications for Ecommerce_ Complete Guide

Ever had your phone light up across the room and felt a split-second rush to go and open it to find out what new information awaits you?

The odds are, if you live in the year 2021, your answer to this question is, “Well, duh.”

That’s push notification in action. 

So, What’s Push Notification?

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A push notification is a term used to refer to the messages that pop up on your phone screen or web browser, even if you’re not using any app or web browser at the time.

It’s the primary channel for mobile apps to engage with users.

In the early days of this invention, push notifications were only associated with mobile apps. 

But over the years, they have advanced enough to also include desktop devices and web browsers. 

What’s a Web Push Notification?

A web notification is the push notifications sent through a web browser, either on desktop or mobile devices. 

These notifications can only be sent via a website. In other words, you must at least own one.

Your visitors also have to opt into your web push notification right from your site to receive the messages. 

A Brief History of Push Notifications

Real heroes aren’t made in a day.

They’re built over time. They have to evolve from something, and shaped through experiences and events.

  • The history of push notifications dates back to 2009 when Apple released their Push Notifications Services (APNs) – the first push service ever released. 
  • In May the following year (2010), Google released their Google Cloud to Device Messaging (GCDM) service.
  • That same year (2010), Microsoft Windows and Blackberry also added support
  • In May 2013, Google introduces “rich notifications.” Rich notifications have room for images and an action button. Meaning, users can take immediate action from the notification. For example, they can open an app, play a song, click to watch a video, and so much more. 
  • In June 2013, Safari introduced their support for Safari Desktop notifications for Mac users.
  • In October 2014, Opera added their support for web push notifications, for both mobile and desktop.
  • In April 2015, Google Chromes also added their support for web push notifications, for both mobile and desktop.
  • In January 2016, Mozilla firefox also added its support (for both android and desktop).
  • In April 2018, Microsoft also joined the web push notification bandwagon by adding their support for Windows 10+
  • Now what we’re still waiting for is for Safari to add their web push notification support for iOS. 

How Push Notifications Work

Push notifications are facilitated by 3 key players:

Operating System Push Notification Service (OSPNS): For push notifications to be sent on any OS, the OS must provide support for it. Speaking of which, every OS (Android, iOS, Fire OS, BlackBerry, and Windows) has its own OSPNS. 

App Publisher (or Website Owner for web push notifications): The app publisher has to enable push notification on their app server. Again, this is done via an OSPNS. 

Client App: This is an OS-specific app that comes installed on a user’s device. Its job is to receive incoming push notifications.

As long as you own a website, you can start sending web push notifications. All you have to do is instal a web-based SDK (which is essentially a block of code) from a web push service on your website. 

You don’t have to install any app for this.

For a user, tapping or clicking on a web page notification will take you to whatever website or page the app or website owner determined. 

Adding Push Notification to Your App

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  • The first thing you’ll be required to do is register with your OS push notification service. 
  • Your OS service will provide an API. An API is what enables your app to communicate with the OS service. 
  • You’ll be provided with an SDK or code to add to your app. The SDK is essentially a code library specific to that particular OS push notification service. 
  • At this point, you’re free to upload the app to its respective app store. 

Devices and Browsers that Support Push Notifications

Web push notifications will work on any computer and laptop as long as you have a supported browser, whether it’s Windows, Mac, or Linux.

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However, not every mobile device supports web push notifications. At the time of this publication, iOS devices aren’t supporting it.

That means, as long as you’re using an iPhone or iPad, even by installing a supported browser such as Chrome or Mozilla, you’ll still not receive web push notifications on your device. 

Android mobile devices, on the other hand, support these notifications provided you’ve installed Chrome, Opera, or Firefox browser. 

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Why Are Push Notifications Used?

Push notifications provide both value and convenience to app users. For example, as a user, you can use them to receive:

  • News and sports score right on your lock screen
  • Utility messages such as weather, traffic, and ski snow reports
  • Information on flight check-ins, connection, and change

For an app publisher, push notification act as a direct channel to communicate to your app users. They’re better than emails because your messages don’t get lost in spam folders or archived without being read. Their click-through rate has also been found to be twice that of emails. 

App publishers commonly use them to remind their users to use their app whether or not the app is open at the time. 

They’re also great at driving actions, such as:

  • Promoting your product or services to increase sales
  • Improving customers experiences
  • Converting app users into customers and customers into brand ambassadors
  • Sending transactional receipts
  • Driving your app users to other marketing channels

Three Key Benefits of Web Push Notification

Web push notification allows you to directly re-engage your site visitors.

Users Don’t Have to Disclose Their Personal Information

Anonymity is almost guaranteed to the user. At no point will the users be asked to disclose their personal data, as with emails and SMS campaigns. 

That makes them GDPR-compliant naturally. 

Reaches Both Mobile and Desktop Users

You can use web push notification to target both mobile or desktop users, without necessarily installing any kind of app.

Web push notification is supported by all the major web browsers, including Chrome, Firefox, Opera, Safari, and Microsoft Edge.

It’s also supported by desktops, laptops, and almost all mobile devices (save for iOS devices). 

It’s the Most Engaging Retention Channel

Web push notification has an average opt-in rate of 2 to 10% and an average CTR of 8.5%. 

With these figures, it’s no doubt that they’re the most engaging retention channel — more engaging than social media, email, and SMS.

Push Notifications Vs. Text Messages: What’s the Different 

Push notifications have a few similarities with text messages. But that doesn’t make them the same.

For starters, both of these messages are directly sent to the user and look quite similar on a lock screen. But they’re different.

  • For a push message to properly show up on your lock screen, you need to watch out for the character limit. 

There’s a limit as to how many characters your push notification message should have.

Text messages, on the other hand, can have any length of words. They can be longer because the user can open the entire text to read it. 

But if your push notification gets cut off on a lock screen, then your conversion will suffer.

How the Number of Words Affects Click Through Rate in Push Messaging

The question going around in your head is, “what’s the ideal word count in push messaging.” 

How many characters should your push notification message have for it to generate the best conversion?

No. of Words Click Through Rate
10 words or Fewer 8.8% 
11 to 20 Words 4.9%
21 Words or More 3.2%

An important trick you can learn today is how to communicate your marketing message in the fewest words possible.

  • When a user swipes to open a push notification, the effect will be the same as that of a text message. The only difference is that while the text message will bring them to their messaging app, a push notification will bring them to whatever app or website sent the message.
  • Promotional text messages are always associated with spam. Even with the phone owner’s permission, sending an unsolicited text message is illegal and most of the time distractingly annoying to the user.

Remember that you’re not the only brand that sends them these messages. The odds are pretty good that they also receive dozens of similar messages from other brands. 

However, with push notifications, the user will always know from whom the message is from. They might even be anticipating the message.

And since they have installed your app, that goes to show they don’t mind receiving these messages from you.

Push Notifications Can be Turned on and Off

The user will always have the autonomy to turn a push notification on and off. If they feel like they do not want to read your messages, they have the freedom to turn it off. 

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In other words, the user is always in control of the messages they receive, unlike in text messaging. 

However, while at it, you want to avoid sending too many messages to your users. Try to only send the right messages, and only when it’s necessary. Otherwise, this whole marketing strategy may badly backfire on you. 

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In as much as users don’t mind receiving push notifications, more than half of users think it’s an annoying distraction. 

But not every user is like this. If anything, 26% of users like receiving push notifications because they like being updated about their interests. 

It goes without mentioning another 20% that are quick to point out that push notifications help them become more productive. 

The key to running a successful push notification campaign is to make sure you’re providing value to the users that opt into your campaign. You also want to keep your antennae high for users who find these messages distracting.


Push Opt-in Rates by Industry

As you can see, the number of people that are more likely to opt into your push messaging campaign will always vary depending on what industry you’re in.

The only way to prevent users from opting out of your campaign is by being selective with the messages you send. 

The more you swarm your users with messages the more they’ll be compelled to opt-out.

Keep in mind that once a user opts out, there’s no easy way to get them back. 


How the Push Notifications Look Like on the User’s Phone

Push notifications are as precise as they’re written on the tin.

When you send a push notification, the user will receive it either as a pop-up or banner alert as they use their phones. The alert will still show regardless of what the user is doing with their phone.

Some operating systems display push notifications in a single view. 

Apple has a notification centre, organized in chronological order, for displaying these messages. All that users have to do to access the notification centre is swipe down from the top of their screen. 

Android devices will display the notifications as unread messages on their lock screen. 

iOS users have the option of customizing their notifications at the app level. They can turn the sound on or off and pick the style that they’d like the notifications to be shown. They can also change the red badge that displays the number of unread messages on the app’s home screen icon. 


Using Push Notifications with Location

Mobile operating systems prompt users for permission to share their location information. iOS will send an opt-in alert, while Android will have you give this permission during the setup process after installation. 

With this information, app publishers can start sending more relevant messages based on the user’s location and behavioural data.

For example:

  • A home improvement app can be made to send the company’s offers on cooling units during summer or regional hot spell. 
  • A speciality boutique can invite users that are within a 50 square mile from their store. They can even offer them discounts to entice them to come to the store. 
  • A national sporting wear chain store can invite shopper for pro athlete autographs and hangouts. 


Push Notification Strategy

Push notifications are a direct way to communicate with your app users (if not the only way there is).

It’s important to treat it as a privilege and not a right. As an app publisher, your focus should be on providing value. Every time a user swipes down the notification button, there should be something beneficial or helpful to them.

Failure of which, most of them will start ignoring your push notifications or choose to uninstall your app altogether. 

You need to make good use of analytics and measurement tools to keep track of your app’s performance. At the same time, you want to write compelling push notifications that not only add value to your users but drive them to take action. 

Even more important is to try and test every single one of your messaging tactics and strategies. 


Web Push Notification Vs. Other User Retention Channel

Web Push Notification Vs. E-mail

  • In web push notifications, users don’t have to give their personal information to opt-in, like email. 
  • Web push notifications boast four times higher click-through rate than emails (web push notifications have an average of 8.5% CTR while emails have an average of 2.4% CTR, according to MailChimp). 
  • Web push notifications have three times high opt-in rate when compared to emails, according to Sumo. 

Web Push Notification Vs. App Push

  • For an app push notification to be sent to a user, the user has to first download the app. However, a web push notification will just be sent to the user without them necessarily downloading the app or installing anything. 
  • App push notifications can access the user’s geolocation in real-time, whereas a web push notification can only access it when it’s active. 
  • App push notifications can only be sent on mobile devices, whereas web push notifications work on both mobile devices and desktops. 

Web Push Notifications Vs. Web Notifications

You have to note the difference between these two different types of web notifications.

  • Web notification is another fancy word for web pop-ups. Like we know, pop-ups existed long before web push notifications were even a thing. 
  • With web push notifications, the notifications will still be sent whether or not the user is on the website. However, for web notifications, the user has to be on the website to receive the notifications. 


6 Web Push Notifications Use Cases

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Web push notifications can work with any kind of website. But here are 6 common use cases for them:

1# Recover Lost Sales in Ecommerce

You can send automated web push notifications to users who added your products to their carts but left without completing that purchase — just a simple message reminding them of the purchase they were making. You can even offer them a discount to get them to make up their mind.

2# Recover Lost Reservations in the Travel Industry

When users search for a trip, tour, or accommodation; but for some reason, leave your website without completing the booking, you can always use an automated push notification to remind them.

3# Recover Lost Signups in SaaS

Sometimes users will visit a feature page and leave without signing up. When this happens, it helps to send them an automated sequence of push notifications to get them to reconsider their earlier stance. 

4# Increase Traffic and Engagement in Classifieds

When a user searches for a specific listing but fails to engage with them, a good idea would be to send them a web push notification to remind them of what they forgot. 

5# Reach a Wider Audience with Your Blog or Media

Web push notifications can be a great way to distribute your content to your subscribers. Just send them a manual notification asking them to check out your new publication. 

6# Free Trial and Cost-effective

You can use push notifications to tell your visitors to try out your product or services for free before making any financial commitment.


Types of Push Messages Brands Can Send

You need a strategy for sending push notifications. Instead of sending random messages, learn to customize them based on what stage of the customer lifecycle the underlying user belongs to and what are your campaign objectives. 

Here are five types of push messages to send to your customers:

Transactional Messages: Transactional messages can be sent to a user when you want to inform them about their transaction status. Ever paid for anything online and you received a notification message confirming to you that your payment was successful?

That’s a textbook definition of a transactional message. 

Educational Messages: Educational messages work best when you want to inform your users about a new course you’ve just launched or an exam they should sign up for or take. 

Promotional Messages: Promotional messages inform users about exclusive offers, new deals, and flash sales. The goal is to prompt users to consider purchasing from your website or app.

Personalization: Personalization is the new trend and the secret sauce to keeping your users engaged throughout their customer lifecycle. Personalized messages are great for engaging the user. 

For example, when you acquire a new customer, you can always send them a warm onboarding notification prompting them to check out your site or open your app. 

Customer Rating and Reviews: Send your customers a push notification message reminding them to review and rate your product. See if they can leave some feedback behind or recommend you to their family and friends.


Examples of Push Notification Campaign Conducted by Established Companies

Here are three examples of companies that have been using push notifications to engage their customers and push sales.

Sivvi: Sivvi is one of the leading fashion retailers in Dubai. The company specializes in trendy footwear, clothing, and accessories for both men and women. 

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At some point, the company started experiencing a common problem that ecommerce companies face almost all the time – their customers were abandoning their shopping carts before completing purchases. 

This resulted in poor conversion. So, they decided to use push notification to retarget these customers and bring them back to their site. Just by doing this, they were able to convert 10% of users that had earlier abandoned their cart. 

PetFlow: PetFlow is a well-known retail brand specialized in pet food, treats, toys, and other pet accessories. 

The company has for long been relying on email marketing to boost its sales. However, at some point, their engagement would decline, forcing them to start using push notifications to send personalized messages to their customers. 

That would see to it that their engagement rate shoots by 7%. 

SportsCafe: SportCafe is an Indian, one-stop sports platform that offers match reports, lives-scores, etc. The company has been primarily using Google AdWords and social media to drive traffic to their site.

The problem is that 90% of the visitors they were attracting were anonymous. And since the company wanted to create a pool of more engaged customers, they decided to use Mo-Engage’s push notifications to deliver insightful write-up and breaking sports news to users on both desktop and mobile devices. 

Consequently, they were able to increase their pages views by 32% and the time spent on their site by 12%. 


Web Push Notifications: How to Get them Right

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We’ll be providing some quick pointers to help you get started with push notifications. 

You need more than a batch and blast push notification strategy to experience the true power of web push notification.

Luckily for you, we prepared this simple guide to take you all through the process and show you how to get it done right. 

Personalization in Web Push Notifications

Personalization in mobile push notification can increase your conversion by up to 4x. 

So, there isn’t a reason this wouldn’t also hold for web push notifications.  While creating your web push notification campaign, it’s helpful to also include personalization elements such as a user’s name, place of residence, the category they were viewing, and the items they added to their cart.

The point is to try and give a specific context or character to the notifications and increase the odds of the user clicking on them.

Here’s an example of a personalized web push notification:

“Hey John, your mi11 Ultra phone is still in the cart. Click here to check out!”

In this example, you can see the message mentions the user’s name, and the item they added to the cart. In this way, the user can tell that this is not a random notification message, and that it was triggered by an action they took earlier. 

Smart Triggers in Web Push Notifications

Users sometimes get distracted while going through your website. Some will even trail away from your site when comparing product or prices, or when there’s an urgent need to attend to something else.

Smart triggers help you identify the holes in your conversion funnel or the specific events that trigger users to trail off before completing an action. The goal is to try and bring them back and get them to go through with the action they had started. 

Here’s an example of a smart trigger in action: 

At 8.00: Jeremy tried booking a flight from Singapore to Australia but dropped off before completing payment.

So, the most logical thing to do at this point is to send Jeremy a smart trigger notification reminding them to complete payments.

Here’s the message you can send:

“Hi Jeremy, it’s like you forgot to complete your booking from Singapore to Australia. 

Book Now

“Hi @FirstName, it’s like you forgot to complete your booking from @source to @destination.

Book Now

Smart triggers are usually set for specific events, such as cart abandonment, drop-offs, or successful transactions. 

You can even send them when you publish a new article and want people to read it. 

In other words, they come in handy when your website has specific challenges that you have to solve.

Web Push Notification Segmentation

Every single one of your users is unique in their own special way. But since you can’t address them individually, the least you could do is segment them based on their interests and likes. 

MoEngage allows you to segment users based on their interest and behaviour, as well as the triggering events. 

For example, you could refer the visitors that are checking out Italian food on your website to an Italian restaurant you know. 

Segmentation can help you cut out marketing spam to a larger extent. 

Web Push Notification Timing and Frequency

Timing matters. 

Remember you only have a small window of opportunity for which you can get a user to act. 

Users don’t also like being disturbed, especially at night when they’re sleeping or early in the morning when they’re trying to beat the traffic to get to work. 

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Analytics should be your friend in this. Use them to find out what time is the majority of the users online. That’s the time most of them wouldn’t mind interacting with your notification. 

A single push notification may not be enough to get the user to take an action. But that’s not to say that you should start spamming them with notifications – this could result in massive opt-outs. 

Use frequency capping settings to avoid creating a push campaign that spams users with notifications. 

Override Auto Dismissal

Push notifications are usually shown for about 20 seconds before they disappear. 

So, what happens when the user isn’t sitting in front of their computer during this period?

Well, you can override this. By de-activating “auto-dismissal,” that means the notification will continue to show until the user decides to act on it. Meaning, the only thing that will stop the message from showing is when the user cancels it or acts on the indicated course of action.

“Time to Live” in Web Push Notification 

Push notifications have limited delivery time with Google Cloud Messaging. If the notifications aren’t delivered within the specified time, GCM will proceed to clear them from the queue. 

Users might not be receiving your push notifications for several reasons. It could be that they were offline at the time you send the message. 

What you want to do is assign your messages a higher “time to deliver.” You, however, want to be careful with how you proceed with this. For example, if the offer is about a two-hour discount sale, then you want to make sure the message is delivered within two hours. Otherwise, there’s no point in sending a user the message after the two-hour discount has already elapsed. It’s the same with sending your cab details to a rider after they have already boarded it. 

Push Notification Text + Image + Call to Action (CTA) 

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Users prefer it when your message is clear and straight to the point. You send them a message, fine. But what exactly do you want them to do?

They hate it when marketers send them vague messages. If users aren’t interested in whatever you’re offering, there’s no way they’re buying it. Save both of you time instead of being too much of a chicken to meander about it.

Here are a few things you want to take note of while drafting your push notifications: 

  • Simple and Action-oriented: Be simple and straightforward while writing the notification copy. Don’t make your users to scratch their heads trying to figure out what it is you meant to say. In the end, you want to make sure the copy is action-oriented and that the user can easily tell what action you want them to take – whether it’s reading your article, making a booking, or checking out a new item you just added to your product pipeline. 
  • Scarcity and Urgency: You have to let the user know that they have a limited amount of time for which to act. The point is to try and compel them to take action. 

You’d be surprised by how much this simple trick works. According to “Prospect Theory,” people are more likely to make a decision based on the potential gains or losses they’re likely to get out of a given situation. 

  • Lure them with Social Proof: You can use preselection to get a user to act on your notification. All you have to do is let them know that a couple of people have already purchased your product or services and are enjoying the experience.

Here’s an example:

“100 people are reading this article now. Wanna join them?” 

  • Use Images: Images make your notification more attention-grabbing and appealing to the user. The point is to try and use images that are directly related to your brand or images that the user can easily recognize without missing a beat. 


About the Author

Tom Koh

Tom is the CEO and Principal Consultant of MediaOne, a leading digital marketing agency. He has consulted for MNCs like Canon, Maybank, Capitaland, SingTel, ST Engineering, WWF, Cambridge University, as well as Government organisations like Enterprise Singapore, Ministry of Law, National Galleries, NTUC, e2i, SingHealth. His articles are published and referenced in CNA, Straits Times, MoneyFM, Financial Times, Yahoo! Finance, Hubspot, Zendesk, CIO Advisor.


Search Engine Optimisation (SEO)

Search Engine Marketing (SEM)

Social Media


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