The Smarter Alternative to eCommerce Overlays

Pete Boyle
13 min readJun 21, 2017


Every store owner and marketer scours the web for the latest, greatest best practices.

We’re always looking for the article or eBook explaining the new technique to raise sales by 300%, land 5000+ new customers, or something similar.

And these things always go the same way.

Someone, somewhere achieves something impressive. They share it with the world and its picked up by authority figures in that niche.

Before long, every site is talking about it and calling it a “best practice”. And, of course, in our hunt for the latest and greatest techniques, every business adopts it as their new MO.

But here’s the problem.

Often, these emerging best practices work because they step away from the mainstream methods utilized by the many.

They’re curios, grabbing attention through the simple act of being different. But when everyone starts adopting that same exact method, the new best practice becomes nothing but a normal practice.

And when the average consumer is subject to thousands of marketing messages every day, the same old shit becomes easy to filter out. Our brains filter ads and messages we think have no relevance to our needs.

Take your inbox as an example. How often do you read every email? Rarely, right? I’m willing to bet that you’re able to spot a fake, spammy, or poorly optimized subject line a mile away. And what do you do with it?

Ignore or delete.

If an email has a subject line that reminds you of a crappy ad, it goes straight to the trash bin.

Someone might devise a new subject line best practice which achieves an incredible open rate, however, once it’s become mainstream, something else is needed to once again break the status quo.

Grabbing attention and soliciting action is the eternal battle smart marketers and store owners face.

Knowing How to Grab Attention

This is one of the biggest problems online marketers face. How to consistently grab the attention of consumers and persuade them to take a specific action.

Most marketers look within the established guidelines for a little inspiration. They rarely experiment with completely new methods, instead preferring to focus on optimizing tactics for existing channels.

For example, devising subject line templates that increase open rates, figuring out how to optimize images for social media, or which ad formats get the highest CTRs.

These are all great pieces of advice and worthy subjects of study.

But often, the greatest gains are made by those willing to step outside of the tried and true channels. The biggest benefits often come not from optimizing existing channels, but from introducing something completely new.

Take overlays as an example.

Before overlays were a thing we all relied on soliciting sign-ups through nothing but the sidebar, or in line forms on our company blogs. Stores built their list at the point of purchase by asking for emails for delivery updates.

Online lead capture

Great example of the old method of gathering leads Source

But times change.

Generic calls for joining the newsletter or adding an extra step into an already friction-heavy funnel started becoming less effective.

So some smart cookie decided an overlay popup might work. Not the spammy, bullshit popups that detract from the user experience, but one which solicits an action which will benefit the user.

eCommerce Overlay popups


It was a completely new direction which had a huge impact on the industry.

The overlays themselves have been finessed now to include all sorts of dynamic triggers. They trigger on exit, entry, run on timers, or are triggered when a user enters your site.

The messages can include everything from a simple notification to soliciting a sign-up or sale.

Pop-ups were a new direction for many marketers, but they’ve quickly become a staple of online marketing brands cannot do without.

But now, it’s time for another evolution.

Simplicity Reigns, Mobile Rules

Digital marketing, especially for eCommerce, develops at an incredibly quick pace.

What worked last year has already been superseded with a more refined, optimized method.

But if you look at the developments over the last few years, you’ll notice two very distinct trends.

The first is the simplification of, well, everything.

Websites are making things simpler for users. Everything from image selection and on-screen choices to the funnels users will run through have been drastically simplified.

Take Good as Gold as an example. The below image is from a Spotify roundup post from 2012 listing some incredibly well-designed sites.

Poorly optimised eCommerce store

No doubt this site converted well at the time. But by today’s standards that home page is cluttered.

You have different products from different categories all on one page with a slightly cluttered menu on the left. Now, compare that to their store today.

Optimised eCommerce store

Now there’s one hero image (on a carousel), a simple sign up box, and an upfront shipping promise. Not to mention the simplified, nav menu at the top.

It’s a simpler page which accurately demonstrates how store design has become simpler to facilitate easier UX.

It’s the same story with any sort of digital property. Focus over the last 5–10 years has been on simplifying the user experience to help facilitate a faster journey to purchase.

The other big development has been in device usage, namely the huge shift toward mobile.

A couple of years ago Google and Comscore reported the first instance of mobile browsing overtaking that of desktop.

Mobile vs desktop eCommerce

The big question for eCommerce stores at the time was how mobile actually affected conversions. Even though more people were using mobile for browsing, very few actually used a mobile device to purchase.

Mobile was a key component in user research, but users were still preferring a multi-platform, cross-device journey.

cross device journeys in eCommerce

And as the above image demonstrates, multi-platform is still the norm. However, mobile is closing the gap. With every passing year, more people are using mobile at every stage of the journey, including to purchase products.

The successful eCommerce stores of tomorrow are those implementing smart tactics today. They’re the stores who are simplifying their procedures and implementing tactics that work seamlessly across all devices.

The Simple, Multi-Device Tactic Engaging Customers and Driving Sales

The eCommerce world is at a tipping point.

Mobile is the smart choice for those wanting to future-proof their companies. And, as has been the case for a while, overlays are a great way to elicit action.

However, Google has recently commented that mobile sites using intrusive overlays are to receive a penalty lowering their position in the SERPs.

For brands relying on organic traffic to drive sales, this could be incredibly costly.

ecommerce overlays, popups

Mobile sites are already judged based on their use of overlays. If Google, the largest traffic driver in the world, continues on their warpath of user experience, then we could see further penalties to mobile sites in the future or similar rules being applied to their desktop counterparts.

Which is why here at Recart we’ve been working on something new.

Something which offers the same value as an exit intent overlay by bringing users back onto your store through a smart triggered messaging, however, it does so without risking the wrath of the Google Gods.

The development we think could revolutionize the industry are our push notifications.You’ve likely seen push notifications in use before.

You’ve likely seen push notifications in use before. On desktop they’re the small rectangles scrolling in from the top right-hand side of the screen.

And they always grab your attention, right? They might take only a small section of digital real estate, but you never fail to notice the notification when it triggers.

We’ve built a feature into the Recart service which allows you to drop specific, custom messages into your customer’s notification box.

You can customize the message to tackle everything from automated cart abandonment and welcome emails to specific flash sale promotional notifications. Everything you’d need to bring the user back on site and wanting to purchase.

Here’s a quick look at how they appear to your customers on desktop.

Push notification in eCommerce store

This is just an example of a test notification. There’s real examples in the following section.

As mentioned you can also use them on mobile. Here’s a look at how they appear on mobile devices.

Mobile push notifications for eCommerce
push notifications not overlays mobile ecommerce

We developed these notifications around a handful of key concepts.

First, they had to work across all devices. Sure, mobile first is what all the gurus are saying, but until desktop is no longer converting at all, you need something that you’re able to use across multiple devices and channels.

Second, they had to be less intrusive and of a completely different manner to the existing best practices. As mentioned at the start of this article, your users slowly become skilled at blocking out sales messages.

If we followed the existing format of eCommerce overlays, there was a risk that users would ignore the messages, not to mention the potential Google penalty.

By utilizing the notification format we’re not only serving something different and attention-grabbing, but it’s less intrusive and so won’t be penalized by Google for ruining the user experience.

And finally, as with all Recart services, it had to be fully customizable. As eCommerce store owners ourselves we know the best results are seen with custom messages and triggers. So, just like all of our other services we’ve followed our guiding principle, “we provide the template, you add the detail”.

As yet the push notifications have only gone through preliminary real life testing. However,the tests we have run have far out performed even our expectations (stay tuned for upcoming articles with statistics and comparisons!).

Three Awesome Notification Campaigns

Whilst this is a new feature, we’ve had the opportunity to play around a little and have got some starting advice for you if you’re looking to introduce notification campaigns into your existing store.

Below we’ve listed three of our most successful campaigns with a couple of pointers on how to get them started.

Welcome Notifications

Push notification in eCommerce store

We all know that the majority of eCommerce users exit the store before completing their purchase.

And we all know that cart abandonment overlays and emails are a great way to bring exiting users back on to your site. However, these are the last ditch effort.

They can drive a ton of revenue for you, but they shouldn’t be all you rely on. Prevention is always better than a cure, and we’ve found that an upfront incentive is a great way to quiet any doubts and facilitate a smoother purchase decision.

However, there are a few steps we’ve found work better with welcome notifications.

  1. Ensure the money off incentive is only valid for that initial visit. You’re trying to solicit a sale today, not let them leave.
  2. Make the offer available on a wide range of products. If it’s a generic welcome notification that’s only available on a small category of products, most users might leave as that’s not what they’re shopping for
  3. Make it attractive, but not to the point of damaging profitability

Abandoned Cart Notifications

Cart abandonment notification

Abandoned carts are one of the biggest profit drains in eCommerce. We’ve written about the problem extensively here and we’re still not close to covering in detail what is a problem costing eCommerce trillions of dollars in lost revenue.

The usual method of securing abandoned carts is with an exit-intent overlay that offers a money off incentive and/or a follow-up email sequence.

But again, the problem you have to contend with is exit intent both becoming par for the course and so easily ignored, and also the potential negative effects it could have on your search placements.

Our abandoned cart notifications bridge the gap between the traditional exit intent overlays and the follow-up messages. They not only remind them of an abandoned cart’s contents, but also do so over a prolonged period of time without added hassle of email optimization.

  1. Time them appropriately. The “golden period” of cart abandonment messages is between 1–6 hours of the cart being abandoned (by default, the cart abandonment push notifications we run come with three standard times — 1 hour, 12 hours and 24 hours).
  2. Remind, then incentivise. Don’t shoot yourself in the foot by immediately offering a money off incentive. Remind first and, if the purchase still isn’t completed after 24 hours, offer the incentive.

Instant Notifications

Instant sales notifications, push notifications

Instant notifications could be a game changer for many online stores.

We all know the value of a good flash sale. Get the timing right and even a heavily reduced offer could see your revenue soar thanks to the huge number of purchases users will make.

However, the problem with flash sales has always been int eh promotion. Pre launch emails are great at increasing excitement, but they require consumers to remember or make a note of when the sale begins.

Social media posts when the sale is live are a good way of driving instant traffic, however, a Tweet or Facebook update is quickly lost in a landslide of other updates.

An instant notification can be used to send a direct message to your user’s mobile device in anticipation of the sale beginning. You can use these notifications to send updates throughout the sale as well and keep them abridged of everything that’s happening.

Here’s a few tips for running effective instant notification campaigns:

  1. Be sure to send a few prior to the sale begins and build excitement
  2. Send numerous updates throughout the sale to continually remind people that it’s going on.
  3. Get smart with your targeting. Don’t just send multiple identical messages out, send targeted messages to different audience segments. For example, a clothing store will see more sales by promoting specific shoe based savings to customers who repeatedly purchase shoes.

Implementing your First Notification Campaign

We know that time is everything with eCommerce stores. If something takes too long to implement then you run the risk of missing out on potential sales.

Fortunately, our push notifications are super quick and simple to implement and take on average 5 minutes to set up.

Here’s how they work. When logged into your Recart dashboard you’ll see a section on the left navigation menu titled push notifications.

eCommerce push notifications

Click on that and you’ll be directed to a page featuring a graph of your recent push notification activity. Ignore that for the time being and scroll down until you see the below.

ecommerce push notifications and overlays

Once you click on the activate button (highlighted above) your campaigns will be good to go. Simple as that.

As a default, that single click will implement a basic welcome and cart abandonment notification.

The welcome is a little generic and could do with some customization (especially if you want to direct certain users to a specific section of your store) but the cart abandonment notifications will dynamically pull their cart contents to populate the message.

The cart abandonment messages will work out of the box, but we’d still recommend you personalize them to really take on your brand voice.

To personalize each message, just click on auto campaigns and then the edit button of the campaign you wish to update. You’ll find a screen like the below which will allow you to customize:

  1. Headline message
  2. Sub-headline message
  3. The timing of the automated message
  4. The destination URL
  5. A relevant image
Customise push notification and popup for ecommerce

Underneath the automated campaigns you’ll also find instant campaigns which can be sent immediately or scheduled in advance. Instant campaigns work in the same way but are great for more specific messages such as:

  1. Notifying people of an ongoing or upcoming sale
  2. Giving notice of the end of a sale
  3. Notifications of new products or restocked out of stock products

The User-Centric Way of Driving Revenue

For years users have been complaining about intrusive overlays that disrupt their browsing experience. It;s become such an issue that Google are starting to roll out penalties for those who offer a poor UX.

It leaves eCommerce store owners like you in a bit of a predicament. With the number of abandoned carts so high we need to do something to recapture the attention of those who leave before they purchase, but we have to be mindful of UX and any potential Google penalties.

The Recart push notification system is a great way for store owners to not only recapture abandoning users, but also promote sales and bring previous buyers back to the store in a streamlined less intrusive manner.

We think that push notification will be the future of eCommerce communication and will help drastically reduce the amount of carts that are abandoned without having to resort to annoying attention grabbing tactics.

If you want to join those already benefitting from this exclusive Recart feature, be sure to sign up for your free Recart account today.



Pete Boyle

Founder and I examine how businesses grow their revenue.