We take a look at email acquisition, and how it can help to build a strong email database.

The exact value may vary between different businesses, but there’s no doubt that the email addresses of site visitors are important for retailers. So how can e-commerce sites encourage people to sign up?

Well, there are ways they can increase the number of sign ups, as many don’t make customers aware of the option, relying on customers spotting the option.

Most e-commerce sites have an email sign-up option somewhere on the site, often in the footer, as on Macy’s (below). These are easily missed, and often customers have to actively seek such options out.

Another way many sites build an email list is to gather emails once customers have made a purchase. There’s no doubt such email addresses are valuable, but to rely on this alone is to miss out on the chance to market to potential customers.

A more pro-active approach can help retailers to encourage more email opt-ins, and this is all about building a strong email address database. The fact that users have actively signed up signifies that they have some interest in the products or services on offer.

By taking an anonymous website visitor and turning them into a identifiable customer, retailers have permission to communicate with them, making them a much ‘warmer’ prospect.

Timing is Key

A lot of retailers are using using overlays to invite email subscriptions, though many are arguably too intrusive. For example, Gap shows me this just a second or two after arriving on the site.

It’s a good offer, but the timing is all wrong, as people have no time to even begin to browse the site before seeing this message. As such, it could be counter-productive and lead to some visitors abandoning the site.

Other retailers implement this more intelligently, improving the timing and avoiding the risk of annoying customers who are already busy browsing.

For example, Navabi uses an overlay with a similar message to that from Gap, but only shows it after five seconds of inactivity. This means that users won’t be interrupted when browsing.


It works too. I spoke to Navabi’s Email Marketing Manager Catherine Reuter last year on this topic. The version implemented back then had driven 2.5 times more email sign ups in the UK, and 3 times more in Germany.

How On-Site Acquisition Works

Email acquisition overlays can be triggered according to various parameters. For example, visitors showing exit intent (moving the cursor towards the browser back button etc) can be shown the messages or it can be triggered by a specified period of inactivity.

They work because users have to interact with them in some way, either to enter their email address or to close them. If they are too intrusive, they won’t work so well, but when they are helpful to the visitor, they can be very effective.

For example, this message on Cardpool is sure to attract people’s attention, but it can also be closed quickly and easily.


It can be used for new customer acquisition, offering a discount on the first order.

Thanks to on-site acquisition, Oakley was able to increase customer acquisition by 66%.

On-site acquisition was used in the context of a remarketing campaign,  where customers were prompted for their email address once they were further into their buying journey.

In addition, a multi-cycle email campaign was used to tempt those who abandoned to come back and complete their purchase.


In Summary

When used well, On-Site Acquisition helps retailers to acquire the email addresses of potential customers with timely and relevant prompts.

It works because it’s useful for customers and the prompts offer value rather than intrude on the customers as they make their way through your site.

Request a Demo of On-Site Acquisition

Find out how Email Acquisition could work for you.

  • Very helpful tips Graham! But I was wondering, do you think pop ups will still be effective? I mean, because I heard Google penalized sites that uses pop ups.

    • grahamcharlton

      Thanks Emmerery, they do work, as our own stats show, but I agree that it’s important to avoid intrusive messages, and those which cover a lot of the screen. They should also be easy to ignore if users prefer not to sign up.

      Google doesn’t penalise all sites using overlays, it picks out things like interstitials, and banners that take up the whole page. This is meant to target the very intrusive messaging and ads you see on some sites.


      Among the techniques it ‘approves’ are ‘banners that use a reasonable amount of screen space and are easily dismissible’, which is what we produce for clients.



      • Hi Graham! Thanks for the reply. Just read the article in the link you gave. Thanks for this reference. Helps a lot!