The Best and Worst Push Notifications Today

There’s a lot of buzz around push notifications–how and when to use them and why they’re effective. Though a sizable number of brands have implemented the technology to send them, few have mastered an awesome push marketing strategy.  How do I know this? In a recent survey we conducted to learn more about consumers’ mobile habits and preferences, 43.6% of respondents said they don’t want their favorite brands to send push notifications.  

So what separates strong push notifications that consumers actually want to receive from the weak and ignored? Take a look at five real-life examples that push it real good, as well as a couple that….well, don’t.

The Skimm

This daily news digest summarizes the day’s top stories with humor and wit. I received this push the other morning to notify me a new edition had been posted:

5_Real_Life_Push_Notifications_and_Why_They_Work_-_The_Skimm.pngWhy this one works?  It’s not just that The Skimm is letting me know they published new content. Even better, they are telling me about this new content at the moment of impact when I am most likely to open the app and read it: in the morning, on my way to work.

Lesson: Send push notifications based on your consumer’s behavior and their location and time zone. Whether you’re able to leverage data at the individual level (ideal!) or go by good old-fashioned common sense (can’t go wrong), always remember to think like a consumer.


Love this company and this app.  Why? Aside from being a shopper-for-sport,  I’m able to identify my preferences and create a personalized experience based on my style and items I’m in the market for. Best of all, the preferences are applied to both their mobile app and website (omnichannel for those in the biz).  And here’s how Shopbop is winning. By having me identity items I am interested in, but not ready to purchase, they were able to send me a push notification to alert me one of my favorites was selling fast:

5_Real_Life_Push_Notifications_and_Why_They_Work_-_ShopBop.pngLesson: Send a push notification to simultaneously help your customer and add value to shopping through the app, while creating urgency to drive sales: Two Birds. One stone.


This is a fantastic app that makes learning a new language fun and manageable by letting users set a goal for the number of minutes they want to dedicate each day. Duolingo asks users if they want a daily practice reminder that they send via email and push notification, like this one I recently received:

5_Real_Life_Push_Notifications_and_Why_They_Work_-_Duolingo.pngWhile this is a nice, easy going message, there’s a problem: I had already achieved my goal that day via the desktop site. I didn’t need a reminder because I was already done. This superfluous push underscores the common plight of the modern marketer–disparate systems that don’t speak to each other resulting in a disjointed view of the customer and an inability to personalize engagement in real-time, at-scale.

Lesson: Upgrade the technology to an omnichannel solution. Legacy solutions are out and CRM at the speed of mobile is in.

Hafta Have

Hafta Have is your answer to the the age-old dilemma of “I love this, but would only buy it if it cost $40 less.” The app enables consumers to shop the merch at participating stores and flag items to be notified when they go on sale. The concept of personalizing your own virtual sale section is so unique, which is why I was disappointed to receive this push notification that was anything but:

5_Real_Life_Push_Notifications_and_Why_They_Work_-_hafta_have.pngSure, they’re offering me a discount but I’ve never browsed the merchandise in that brand’s section of the app, let alone flagged an item in it. Nothing about my behavior has indicated I’d be interested in a discount from that brand. And that makes me feel like Hafta Have isn’t paying attention to me and doesn’t care about my interests, only their own.

Lesson: Sending push notifications that aren’t relevant to the individual consumer is not an effective way for brands to build goodwill or drive conversions. Generic discounts are not the way to win customer loyalty; instead, send them push notifications with offers based on their actions.


In the cutthroat world of online auctions, users need to stay abreast of the competition and be ready to strike at the perfect moment. But who wants to be trapped in front of their computer all day in case something happens? The eBay app is great for monitoring watched items, searches and auctions on the go with all of the functionality of the desktop site. I’ve been on the hunt for a Persian rug and finally found the perfect one at an incredible price. Just when it looked like I would be declared the winner of the antique beauty, I received a push notification (image not available) alerting me I had been outbid (while I was out to lunch, no less)!

Lesson: Timing is everything and not just in regards to the final minutes of a bidding war. Consumers are quite literally mobile–they’re out and about, moving around, away from their computers, but never without their smartphones. They’re glued to them in fact. So why not connect with people where they’re always connected? Particularly when the message is time sensitive.

The world of in-app messaging and push notifications gives brands a new opportuntiy to engage with their customers in a mobile-first world.  However, if done incorrectly as mass, generic messages or if the communication doesn’t provide actual value, you’ll run the risk of sending your customers running.