Practical Ecommerce

Pop-ups bad for the web, bad for business

Our company is approached frequently by app makers that are selling pop-ups, or modals, for our ecommerce site. The pitch is usually the same: Use our pop-up to get more email subscribers, close more deals, and keep visitors on your website. But the question isn’t which app to go with. It’s whether we should use pop-ups at all.

Let me first separate categories of pop-ups. There are user-experience pop-ups. For example, when a website is different based on a user’s location, it makes sense to have a pop-up that requests the user’s postal code. Also, if a user clicks on something, such as a photo, and expects a pop-up, that is cool.

But what I want to address in this article are pop-ups that seek to collect an email address — or offer exiting visitors an instant 20 percent coupon. These are marketing pop-ups.

At Beardbrand, we have decided against using marketing pop-ups. The biggest reason is that it’s bad for the web. It’s a marketing practice that is annoying to many users and makes browsing the web a worse experience. The fact that pop-up blockers are built into many browsers confirms this. Other ad-block extensions are further proof that many people are driven mad by these things.

Merchants and app makers who favor marketing pop-ups will talk about how they perform and how you will get increased revenue from them. But the same argument can be made for spam and telemarketing. Yes, they work and it gets generates more revenue. But the reality is consumers don’t want pop-ups because they are annoying. Spam has hurt many legit email newsletters and people stopped answering phone calls from unrecognized phone numbers thanks to telemarketing.

As an ecommerce decision maker, you can make the web a better place and remove pop-ups. Foregoing pop-ups forces you to build a stronger, healthier business.

The problem for many companies is that alternative marketing strategies are hard work. Or perhaps the companies don’t know there are alternatives. They want the cheap, the easy, and the immediate. But that attitude is detrimental to the long-term growth of a business. It should be replaced with “what can we do to make the experience so good that they choose to engage with us?”

I’ve found the best way to get an email address is to get a sale. Continuous A/B testing ensures users are finding information and flowing through the funnel. It is good for all parties. It helps users achieve their goals and it helps merchants grow revenue.

You can also implement a better layout that highlights your newsletter sign-up form. Take inspiration from companies that have grown rapidly without pop-ups. These companies typically have beautifully-designed websites, incredible photographs, and a story and vision that are guiding the company.

I’m an old-school guy. If you have a great product, great experience, and great vision, you will see revenue growth. Cheap tricks may temporarily boost sales. But they aren’t a foundation to build your business on. Change the way you think about your marketing and you will start seeing the results of those efforts.

So, which camp are you in? Pro pop-up or not?


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  1. Ronald Zitver March 9, 2016 Reply

    No pop-ups!

  2. Sarah March 9, 2016 Reply

    There’s an email pop out on the bottom right of this page…

    • Ramon March 10, 2016 Reply

      I scrolled down to make the same comment!

      I loathe pop-ups. I especially loathe the ones that are B.S. surveys of the “before you read this article, answer a few questions” variety. If I don’t immediately click away, I simply lie. And if it’s a two part survey, I give conflicting answers.

  3. Valentin Radu March 10, 2016 Reply

    Got your point, Eric.
    Is just that you are a bit wrooooong :)
    We have 7000 users, mainly in Europe and most in e-commerce that are using our CRO engine with on-exit intent personalization pop-ups that are geting good results.
    Is not the knife, is how you use it. IS not the tool, but how you use it. Not the pop-ups, but the content in them. You can add relevant data, you can gain valuable insights and provide outstanding value, without affecting the visitor experience.
    Here are some case studies:


    And a challenge for you: If you will not gain at leasst 10% more transactions using our real-time personalized pop-ups, I am ready to pay you for that potential uplift, in cash!

    • Jon March 10, 2016 Reply

      You’re right and missed the point at the same time. The point here is that sometimes you decide against doing something that may make you money, because you believe it’s better for your customers.

      Yes, pop-ups work, but I agree with Eric that they make the internet experience worse for the customer. So HE draws the line right there and doesn’t use them. That has nothing to do with whether the tactic may give him more subscribers. YOU draw the line somewhere else, hopefully before using actual SPAM tactics :)

      Some restaurants upsell you aggressively, some don’t. I prefer the ones that don’t, but I’m sure the tactic still works for the ones that do.

      And yes, exit intent pop-ups may be a lesser evil, but you still catch lots of people who just want to check their email or another browser tab. Personally, they bug me almost as much as pop-ups right when I enter the site.

  4. Kathy Smith March 10, 2016 Reply

    As a consumer, I hate pop-ups. As a developer, I hate pop-ups. Equating them with telemarketing is the perfect comparison.

  5. Bookish Freaks March 22, 2016 Reply

    Some sites make the x so hard to see that you have no alternative than to leave the site or put your email address in. I have an email address just for the pop ups.

  6. Gin March 30, 2016 Reply

    I personally don’t mind seeing a pop up AFTER I have read some content. Scroll down box, etc. Some sites refuse to let you scroll down or continue using their sites unless you subscribe. THAT is annoying :(

  7. David Hall January 3, 2017 Reply

    We did a study here at Infinity Dental Web where we alternately put up or took down a very unobtrusive pop-up asking people to give an email address so they could sign up for information and specials from one of our clients. When the pop-up was displayed, calls from new patients were depressed by just over 30%. (Read about the study at

  8. July 5, 2017 Reply

    Irony or not this page was obscured by a popup as I tried to read it.