10 ways to use modal windows to increase ecommerce conversion rates

By Yulia Novozhilova

June 29, 2017

When visitors land on your website, you only have a small amount of time to present the most persuasive message possible. Figuring out how to communicate this message in an effective way is key to executing successful ecommerce campaigns.

Modal windows, or lightboxes can help solve that problem. They are easy to implement, work independent of existing website structure, and can support varying sizes and functions based on your campaign needs. For example, using a lightbox on a landing page can give you the ability to display your marketing message in a larger graphic, drawing more attention than you would likely get with a promotional banner.

Definition: A modal window is a content box that’s displayed on top of another page forcing users to interact with it before they can go back to using the site. It is primarily used for making an important decision, and it will not close until that decision is made. For example, when the promotional opt in box comes up, the user needs to either enter their email address or choose “no thanks” in order to close the box. A modal window traditionally has an overlay between itself and the content of the web page in order to give the modal window more prominence. This is why it’s often referred to as a ‘lightbox’ — to describe a visual effect of emphasizing the content of a modal window.

You can use a modal window in a number of ways to help improve conversions. A few promotions to consider:

1. Get them to opt-in

As an ecommerce marketer, you know that every email address you acquire translates to increased revenue. But you also know that most visitors don’t make purchases on their first visit. By acquiring the visitor’s email address at the outset, you can continue the relationship and keep your brand top of mind until the point that they’re ready to convert.

Consider using a lightbox on your site for new visitors. This allows you to call attention to your offer, but also makes it easy to continue through to the site. Remember that in order to deliver the most tailored lightbox messages and get the best opt-in rate, you’ll want to test different messaging.

modal window email signup example


We’ve seen success by offering exclusive or instant discounts, alerts for a favorite brand, and free access to premium content like webinars or whitepapers.

2. Welcome international customers

A great example of using a simple lightbox that can pay dividends in conversion rate, higher average order value, and customer loyalty is when you can target shipping, segmented to international traffic. Those international customers will be happy to know that you ship to their respective country and how much it will cost.

You also can use geotargeting to promote tax-free shipping. The value of tax-free shipping to your business depends on whether or not your customers are motivated by the extra savings. Remember not to promise a tax-free sale because geotargeting points to the current location of the shopper’s computer or mobile device—not their physical address. However, you can easily handle these qualifications with a “click for details” link to more definitive information.

lightbox, modal window example free shipping


3. Decrease risk for new customers

Reducing perceived purchase risk up front leads to quicker purchase and positive impact across metrics. This is especially true when consumer desire for a tactile shopping experience becomes a challenge and purchasing a product requires significant consideration. For example, one of our customers tested a welcome message designed to reduce the perceived risk of buying online. The message was served through a lightbox and promoted the company’s free delivery and free return policies. The lightbox had a positive impact across the board. It delivered a 7.1% increase in add-to-cart rates and a 14.5% boost to new-visitor conversion rates.

To reassure the visitor that there is nothing to worry about, consider bringing the delivery and returns policies to the forefront of the site.

modal window free shipping example


4. Win-back at-risk customers

Defining and targeting at-risk customers with an incentive to drive repeat purchases can have significant impact on revenue and conversion.

Identify customers at high risk for churn to give an exclusive offer on their next purchase. You can do that by creating a segment of customers who have previously purchased from you, but have not returned to make a purchase in the timeframe you’d usually expect (e.g. between 6 and 12 months). Additionally, those “win-back” customers can be targeted via email and across the site using different pieces of real estate: lightbox and homepage banner.

modal window save extra example


5. Revive the purchase process

Online shoppers are easily distracted. They are typically convenience-oriented, actively comparison-shopping, inundated with options, and frequently multitasking.

There are numerous best practices around reducing shopping cart abandonment, including the display of clear reminders that there are items in the cart as the shopper explores your website, and mouse-over views of cart contents from any page so shoppers don’t need to go to the cart page to remember what they plan to purchase. But you will still experience cart abandonment.

Remind returning visitors about the items left in their carts and get them back into the sales funnel quickly. Try using a lightbox that greets them with a reminder of their cart items, encouraging them to place their order while supplies last. It might pay off to add an additional incentive, such as free shipping, to complete the order.

modal window lost and found example


6. Promote physical locations

By using technology that determines the physical location of website visitors, you can display location-specific messages and offers that help increase conversion.

Geotargeting works exceptionally well to highlight synergies between your online and physical retail locations. Call out the closest location of a store so the customer can take advantage of free in-store pickup or learn about in-store events nearby. For other industries like travel, the same idea can be applied to highlight promotional offers based on traveler's location.

modal window geo targeting example


7. Cloudy in Chicago? Sunny in Los Angeles?

While brick-and-mortar retailers can respond rapidly to changing weather conditions, online merchants have typically been shut out of these sales opportunities. Use weather-based targeting to overlay the location of the user with real-time weather and leverage this insight to deliver a more relevant message.

For example, an outdoor clothing retailer can use weather-based targeting to promote rainwear to visitors in a city where it’s currently raining, or to offer a price discount that reflects the visitor’s physical environment to strengthen the connection to the message.

modal window weather targeting example


8. Call attention to the limited time left on a sale

The fear of missing out can have a powerful effect on shoppers. It’s human nature to want to be part of something special. Creating a time restriction is one of the easiest and most effective ways of creating urgency and scarcity on your ecommerce site. Putting together an expiring offer can force customers to make the decision faster than they might have without a time limitation. Including countdown timers on your product pages maybe a good option and better than just showing the date the sale ends. Another way to speed up the sales process is to show a lightbox to a person who is most likely be interested in that offer.

modal window flash sale example


9. Provide customer support

If you know a visitor has been on the website longer than average, use a lightbox to display customer service contact information or encourage them to chat with online support if they any questions. Those options can help guide her through the conversion process.

modal window chat box example


10. Capture customers' attention before they leave

And finally, the use of an exit intent lightbox can capture customers' attention before they leave the site by offering highly relevant reason to stay. Arrange for a lightbox to appear when a user signals an intention to exit. This can be triggered by an event such as moving the cursor towards a browser close button.

Sometimes, shoppers just aren’t ready to buy, even though they are still interested. Offer to save their basket, and collect their email in the process. Then it will be super easy for them to come back to your site and pick up where they left off.

modal window exit example


Obviously, a modal window won’t work for every situation. For example, it’s best to use caution once visitors have passed the cart page in the conversion process — you don’t want to distract them from completing their purchase. Make it clear how visitors can close the box or complete your call to action, because your lightbox efforts need to add value for visitors, not frustration. If someone is visiting your website via a smartphone, a lightbox won’t be very effective because of the device’s small screen size. In fact, as of January 10th 2017 Google started to penalize mobile sites with intrusive interstitials, that obscure the main content, either prior to or during the user accessing it, so proceed with caution.

Extensive experimenting across a mix of online retailers has proven that modal windows can be widely successful for a number of experiences, not to mention powerful at generating higher conversions. It's important to determine, however, which approach is the right solution for you when you are deciding which experience you should serve your customers and when. For example, when you have very clean segments, like a loyalty club audience, that you wish to target with specific offer, then the answer may be the segmentation. If you don’t have time to explore or have a very low session volume, then you might be looking at self-learning testing solution that will drive quick results. We now estimate the usage of these approaches to be weighted heavily to 1:1 personalization with testing and segmentation representing a minority of the experiences being served to customers.

Thanks to platforms like Monetate, creating and managing personalized experiences is easier than ever. That being said, building a successful experience is an ongoing effort. Keep in mind that the first version you roll out will most likely not be the last.

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Yulia, a member of Monetate's marketing team, is an expert in marketing automation and marketing operations. Curious about all things digital marketing, she is constantly expanding her thinking on the best approaches to marketing success. She also likes taking calculated risks — you can spot her searching for edible mushrooms and berries in the parks of Pennsylvania.

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