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Why push notifications matter for e-commerce

Email vs SMS vs Mobile App Push Notifications

We all know that SMS and email need to be a part of your marketing mix, but why should you add in the feared push notifications? If you’re an e-commerce merchant, this scenario happens every day. Your customer, Steve, has had his eye on one of your products for a while now. Ping! He’s got a text, it’s from you letting him know that his coveted product is on sale. He clicks on it and is about to check out… when work calls. You’re thinking, it’s all good. We’ll email him. But, he doesn’t check his email until he’s done with work and he’s exhausted. So that awesome sale you made just for Steve never gets claimed.

And, it’s not just him – the average customer takes roughly 6.5 hours to open an email. Worst of all, only 2% of your customers click on links in an email. So how are you supposed to get Steve to complete the sale?

What if you had another, more effective way to reach customers that fill the cracks in your existing sales & marketing channels? That’s where a Push Notification can make all the difference.

How do email, SMS, mobile app push notifications compare?

With an omnichannel strategy, your goal should be to gently remind your customers about your brand and spark enough interest that will result in engagement and clicks, without spamming them. So, it’s critical to map out what messages should be delivered, when, and by what channel.

*Sources: DSIM and Statista via MobileMonkey, Mailchimp, Reckless, Airship Benchmark Report 2021.


Email marketing has penetrated practically all industries and has been a top-performing channel for many years. 

It’s the ideal way for e-commerce merchants to convey messaging that’s not time-sensitive, such as announcements, feedback, user-account verification, and business updates.  Email should absolutely be a part of your marketing mix, but you should try not to use it for anything time sensitive. Especially since the average time to open for emails is 384 minutes.

Email takes too long to be checked.

Unlike a push notification or text, not everyone gets notified when they receive a new email. And, when they do, they tend to only check them at certain times of the day.

More importantly, more than 20% of emails sent don’t get delivered at all. And, if your email does get delivered, there’s a 70%, chance it won’t be opened at all. Let’s say it does get delivered and opened, only 2% of customers click on links.

Email can end up in the spam folder

2.4 billion emails get sent every second. Your customers’ inboxes are overflowing with emails of all kinds, solicited or unsolicited. Popular email servers cut down on unwanted emails with filters that detect and examine bulk distributed emails. And, customers commonly adjust their email filters to their own preferences. We’re not saying anything you don’t know here but your emails could easily land in spam land.

Even worse, your emails could land you in serious legal trouble. The CAN-SPAM Act has a strict set of rules that companies must meet while using email marketing, or be fined up to $16,000.

Emails appear differently on different device types

Your marketing and UX teams may have worked to the bone to strategically create an email marketing campaign that looks good and works well, but different servers, device types, and computer or mobile settings mean that your design may not appear exactly as you hoped, or be even completely distorted.

At times it can reduce the impact of your message and other times be a complete UX nightmare. If you want to avoid this, you’ll have to ensure that the code used is readable to the most basic processing systems and appears uniformly irrespective of the server, device, or device setting. You may need to invest in expert consultations with a technical specialist or marketing firm, thus increasing cost and lowering your ROI. 

It is expensive

Email marketing is not cost-effective if that’s your only channel of marketing communication with your customers. The cost of email marketing is dependent on the number of subscribers you have. Most email service providers offer varying custom pricing plans in case of customers exceeding 25,000.

On average, you can expect to pay $150 to $1000 per month for unlimited emails.

Email appeals to distinct audiences. Older audiences prefer email and rely on this channel to get offers, news, discounts, and important order updates more frequently than younger audiences. Diversify your messaging strategy by reaching out to different audience groups where they feel most comfortable.  Email is an excellent choice for such use cases.


SMS can be used effectively to relay messages that have more permanence since text messages tend to live in your customers’ phones for a long time, usually being erased automatically only when inboxes become full. If your users don’t delete your very first message, your subsequent texts will appear one after the other, cataloged in the same thread.

This is a super convenient way to establish a deeper, more long-lasting connection with your customer and build brand relevance. SMS is great for repetitive, periodic, and ongoing promotions, support messages, and alerts. If your customers haven’t downloaded your app, you can keep them engaged or urge them to download your app through SMS.

Why you can’t rely only on SMS to be your only channel of customer communication

It is pretty expensive

SMS campaigns are not cheap and never free. Recent research says, sending one SMS in the US is $0.0070. If your client base is 100,000, then deploying an SMS campaign with just one message to all of your customers can cost you $700. Your SMS can end up costing your customer too if they don’t have an unlimited SMS plan. To add to the cost complexity, SMS costs vary by country. You may be paying hidden carrier fees.

Its reach is seriously limited

SMS opt-in rates are much lower than mobile app push notification rates – only 10% of consumers opt in for your SMS. In order for you to be able to market to someone without legal consequences, they have to opt-in for your SMS list. This means you’re only reaching a limited subset of your customers with your SMS marketing campaigns. With SMS, you also have to provide a simple and straightforward method of opting out of receiving SMS communication, as per FCC (Federal Communications Commission, U.S) and IC (Industry Canada) guidelines.

It has limited personalization and customization options

You can’t personalize your SMS campaigns as much as you can customize an app’s push notification. Apart from basic factors such as personal details and geographical location, you don’t have too many details about your customers to tweak your messages enough to push them as effectively as mobile app push notifications do.

It has design limitations

SMS messages are very limited in terms of design and the types of multimedia they support. The texts you send are capped at 160 characters and are limited in the types of multimedia they support. So, your messages need to be simple and convey the CTA (Call to action) without any fluff or the support of visual elements. Plus, multimedia elements may render differently across different types of devices.

However, using SMS, you can communicate with audiences who haven’t downloaded your app yet, are traveling without internet access (provided your SMS doesn’t have links), or are not actively engaged.

Mobile app push notifications

Your customers check their personal emails for a measly 20 minutes per day on an average, but their smartphones are on for at least 16 hours every day. This means app-based push notifications have 48x higher visibility. And here’s what that kind of visibility gets you:


Why mobile app push notifications perform the best.

An effective push notification campaign will fill the gaps in your marketing mix and help your brand stay on top of your customers’ minds. 

The highest open rates

Mobile app push notifications have the highest opt-in rates at 30%, almost 3x the rate of SMS and 15x of email. This means one push is worth… well you can do the math.

Push notifications are free

Unlike SMS, here is no charge on reach for notifications. So you can consistently, dependably, and cost-effectively increase the engagement to turn casual shoppers into brand loyalists. We can’t stress this enough – there is no extra cost associated for messaging in bulk. You can send a highly effective, segmented push notification for free, whether you send one or a hundred thousand of them.

They are remarkably more visible

Given that mobile app push notifications have a 50% higher open rate than email, you have a better chances of enticing your customers with your brand’s new product launches, discounts, and flash sales.

Push notifications are also less intrusive than SMS because they are delivered to your customer’s home screen, without interrupting their current activity.

They are smart and highly personalized

How do you send push notifications that are relevant to all your different customers that all want different things? With smart push notifications that dynamically segment your audience based on their gender, location, time zone, product preferences, buying history, and their interactions with the app.

For example, remember Steve? Let’s say he browses products in your app on his lunch break, you can send him a daily push notification about that product he was viewing yesterday but left in the checkout cart. Popular push notifications like “Abandoned Cart” or “Flash Sales” deliver incredible results.

They keep your customers thinking about you

These notifications serve as a direct line of communication with your customers keeping your brand on their minds even while they’re inactive on your app. When you build re-engagement campaigns, you can leverage your knowledge of what’s important to your users and impress them with content that will genuinely help them and make shopping an easy and enjoyable experience.

They’re eye-catching 

With push notifications, form truly follows function. You can create attractive rich push notifications that your customers can’t miss and have them deep-link to a specific menu, screen, or feature in your app, which is relevant to the customer and which prompts them to follow through on your desired action seamlessly.

Targeted notifications sent to a segmented audience are extremely effective in retention – 39% of customers have over 11 sessions with targeted notifications.

Your best sales and marketing channel awaits you

The modern e-commerce shopper’s journey contains multiple touchpoints where they learn more about your brand, consider buying from your brand, make a purchase, and become repeat customers with high lifetime values. Brands need to be present on all of these touch points to gently guide their customers towards brand loyalty. The key is understanding your customers’ needs and habits so you don’t overwhelm or annoy them with ineffective, repetitive noise.

Ready to experience the power of push notifications for yourself?

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