Beyond the Pop-up: 14 Alternative Strategies to Grow an Email List for Ecommerce

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Out of over 3000 businesses surveyed, 74% of respondents said they were planning on spending more money on their email list in 2017.

Practical Ecommerce

That stat has a lot to do with how consistently effective email marketing has been. But even despite it’s effectiveness, many ecommerce stores have done little to improve efforts for getting visitors onto their email lists.

Often, the only instance of an opt-in is a small signup form in the site’s footer or a disruptive pop-up with little incentive for people to join.

To help you ditch the newsletter mindset, here is a list of alternative approaches to get more people joining your email list (with examples for each):

1. Profile quizzes and product recommendations

Provide a highly personalized experience for your customers using a profile quiz that automatically curates product recommendations and tips based on the person’s answers. This is at the top of my list because of how effective it can be when done well.

Example: Madison Reed

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Example: Anne Marie Skin Care

2. Customer support widgets

Customer support is already an essential requirement for any ecommerce site. By using a SaaS tool like ZenDesk or Intercom, you’re able to create a natural opt-in process by which the customer provides their email address to begin the conversation.

Examples: Madison Reed and Apt2B

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Update: We have created a full tutorial on how to build a product recommendation quiz for a WooCommerce store.

3. Expert consultations

If you have the personnel, offering one-on-one consultations to your customers to help them pick out the products that are the best fit for them is an incredibly powerful way to earn their trust and their business. These consultations are usually done through a chat app or through a form online, where providing an email address is always involved.


Some great examples of this include the Colorists at Madison Reed, Personal Stylists at ModCloth, and Design Partners at Rug & Home

4. Giveaways and sweepstakes

Offer one or more of your products as a prize for a giveaway to anyone who joins your email list. There are many good tools like ViralSweep or Rafflecopter that will serve as the engine for running the sweepstakes, choosing a winner and incentivizing referrals as a way to earn additional entries.


Look to sites like Death Wish Coffee and Royalty Pecan Farms for good examples of ongoing product giveaways as a way to grow an email list.

5. The VIP treatment

Often the key to a better opt-in is all in how you position it. Build some perceived value by offering exclusive incentives to your subscribers. Sometimes just not calling it a newsletter is impactful enough.

Example: Musician’s Friend

6. Communities

Another great way to position your newsletter to visitors is by inviting them into a community built around a special interest. As a part of that community, you’re able to offer special value, and give them a place to geek out on the interests surrounding your products.

Example: Xero Shoes

The Xero Shoes “Inner Circle” is positioned as a community (with benefits) – which holds much more perceived value to visitors.

7. Free samples

One of the biggest challenges in ecommerce is reducing risk for the customer enough where they feel confident in purchasing. Will it fit right? Will it look good? Will it work well?

Offering free product samples is not only a great way to help people overcome their hesitations, that transaction also creates a connection to your email list. This doesn’t work for every product, but if it does for yours, it can help soften a major hurdle to more sales.

Examples: Warby Parker and Anne Marie Skin Care

Warby Parker, of course, does so much volume that they can build the shipping fees of samples into their acquisition costs. Anne Marie on the other hand charges $10 to cover their cost and includes a $10 off discount code with the samples to even things out for the customer.

8. Discount offer for first time buyers

The best type of person to have on your email list is someone who has already bought from you. Create a special offer for first time customers to get them in the door and onto your valuable list of contacts.

Examples: Brooklinen

9. Exit intent or minimum time-on-page pop-ups

Pop-ups do have their purpose. As with all automation, something that has a 1-3% conversion rate can be extremely beneficial, but certainly not at the detriment of the user experience.

Pop-ups and modals that prompt visitors to join your email list should be used with appropriate timing – on exit intent (activates when a visitor’s cursor reaches the top of the browser), after a certain minimum time-on-page, or only for certain segments such as repeat visitors who haven’t bought yet.

This makes sure that you don’t disrupt people from viewing the content they are there to see, which often sends them running from your site altogether.

Example: Pure Cycles

Pure Cycles uses a standard exit intent popup, as well as a unique “spin the wheel” offer popup that only shows after about 5 seconds to people who have browsed their products.

Examples of what not to do

This deserves special mention, because I often see popups used that are incredibly anti-conversion. The following examples use “full screen welcome gates” – where, immediately upon landing on the site, visitors are shown a popup that takes over the entire browser window. Even worse is that these popups don’t show any bespoke imagery of the products that the store sells. So the visitor is not only disrupted from the second they land on the site, there’s nothing to help them gauge what kind of site it is and what it sells.

10. Curated content

When you really start to understand what your customers love, you can offer real value by sharing products and content that they’ll enjoy, even outside of your own business. This is another form of content marketing that can often double as collaborations with other brands.

It’s also another great example of positioning a newsletter.

Example: Anne Marie Skin Care

Anne Marie’s We Heart Newsletter shares other organic, socially conscious products that their customers will enjoy. It’s a very well executed strategy weaving together affiliate links, partner collaborations and interesting product discovery for their audience.

11. Loyalty or referral rewards programs

Referral programs are a retail staple, as well as a win-win incentive to get people creating an account and getting on your email list.


12. Content bonuses or tips/tricks guides

Content marketing is all about offering information of value for free in order to build up a position of trusted authority in your customers’ minds. Package up your best tips, tricks and good advice related to your products and offer that as a carrot for joining your email list.

Examples: Beardbrand and Great Southern Music

13. Out of stock notifications

A common best practice for out of stock products is to give customers the option to be notified by email when new inventory is added for items they are interested in. This is almost always presented on the individual products themselves.

Example: Great Southern Music

14. Abandoned cart automation

Using a sequence of emails that go out automatically when a person leaves without completing their checkout is quickly becoming a necessity for every store. Not only does it get around 5-7% of those who bailed to come back and finish their purchase, it’s an easy way to create that connection with someone who would otherwise leave and forget about you.

Examples: Chronicle Books and Apt2B

As you can see, there are a lot of alternatives to the pop-up to get people onto your email list. The key is to find one that hits the sweet spot of being a good fit for your products, your customers and your bigger-picture marketing strategy.

We are often working with retailers to implement these strategies for their online store. Please get in touch with one of our experts if you are looking to raise conversions on your site.

Free resources to jumpstart your eCommerce success

eBook: The Ultimate Retailer’s Guide to SEO

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Guidebook: Powerhouse Tools and Apps for Shopify Retailers

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