In-App Notification Vs. Push Notification: What's Best For Customer Engagement

In-App Notification Vs. Push Notification: What's Best For Customer Engagement

In a constant tussle between in-app vs push notification, targeted marketing is most effective with a multi-channel approach, and the best mobile campaigns often use a combination of mobile push notifications and in-app messaging. That’s because the complementary channels each offer their own advantages and disadvantages.

Mobile app push notifications, for example, are reported to garner about 4 times greater engagement and 2 times greater retention, but they can only be sent to users who have opted in. Right now, the average opt-in rate across all industries is hovering around 43%.

In-app messaging, on the other hand, has been found to give apps a 27% higher open rate and provide a 53% higher retention than apps that don’t send in-app messages. But the downside, of course, is that users must be active within the app to receive the message.

Despite their limitations, both channels are effective marketing tools. Here are some differences for brands to consider when comparing the pros and cons.

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Deciding which medium to use

Determining when to use which of the two options can be tricky. Factors like the speed of delivery, if a customer has opted in to receive mobile app notifications, and how frequently they use an app need to be weighed. Here are 10 specific examples of times a brand would use a push notification marketing strategy or in-app notifications:

  1. Abandoned shopping cart
  2. Opt-in request
  3. Payment Confirmation
  4. In-app purchases
  5. App abandoners
  6. New app features
  7. Time-sensitive alerts and reminders
  8. Feedback request
  9. Customer lifecycle campaigns
  10. In-store beacons and flash sales

1. Abandoned shopping cart

Medium- Mobile Push notifications

Hybris reports that 97% of shopping carts are abandoned on mobile. That’s a lot of lost revenue!

Although there are lots of reasons that people abandoned their would-be purchases that require businesses to re-evaluate their customers’ experience—a long checkout process, bad loading speed, required registration, poor design, and limited payment options—sometimes it’s just about an interruption. Customers get phone calls, texts, and emails that need to be responded to, pulling them away from their purchase attempt.

A mobile app push notification can be just the nudge customers need to remind them what they started. Businesses can also play around with offers of free shipping or other discounts, like this one from 1800Flowers, to see which help turn abandoned carts into purchases.

Push notification- Abandoned Shopping Cart

Tip- Base your offer on the client’s profile like, based on the number of transactions, activeness on the app, the volume of purchase, etc. Either devise a solid incentive or just decide against sending the message.


2. Opt-in request

Medium- In-app message

In-app messaging platform offers a great opportunity for businesses to ask users to opt-in to receive push notifications on iOS as Fandango does here.

Opt-in request through In-app Messaging iOS

If they don’t opt-in immediately, businesses should ask again through an in-app notifications welcome message or customized screens once the user has had time to evaluate the app and determine its benefits to them.

Tip- Encourage opt-in right at the time when the user installs the app by clearly stating the benefits that he may derive from it.


3. Payment Confirmation

Medium- Mobile app notification:

With push notification service, a customer can pay for their in-store purchase and immediately receive a push notification that their receipt has been emailed to them.

These push notification marketing strategies can be customized, allowing a brand to promote a product, offer a survey, or request feedback while the customer is still in the store and the transaction is top of mind.

In fact, Textedly reports that 98% of all text messages are read within five minutes, which increases the likelihood that the customer will see a brand’s offer while they’re still in the store.

Here’s an example of a digital receipt the mobile push notification could alert the customer to:

Payment confirmation through push notification android


Tip- Avoid sending payment confirmation text messages if you are using mobile app notifications.


4. In-app purchases

Medium- In-app message

A report by eMarketer estimates that in-app purchase revenues just for mobile games will total more than $2 billion in 2016. Targeted in-app messages about purchase opportunities are the perfect way to target “whales”—users who already spend money in an app, as well as non-spenders.

While non-spenders may require more frequent incentives or greater discounts to encourage them to make an in-app purchase, “whales” have already shown, through their purchase history, that they’re likely to purchase at full price.

UserIQ points out that custom offers presented via in-app messages are 10 times more effective than emails alone in driving behavior. It makes sense; brands are up-selling while customers are highly engaged. This is especially true in the case of mobile games, like the one below.

In-app purchase confirmation through in-app messaging iOS

Tip- Keep testing different copies and timings for the message


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5. App abandoners

Medium- Push notification

Businesses should use app notification strategy to pull in users who haven’t used the app in a while. According to, in 2015, 25% of apps were used only once after their installation.

But there’s good news from Aberdeen Group’s research, which found that mobile apps using precision push notification services can create a 20% increase in customer engagement. As a general rule, the more users go into a brand’s app, the more “sticky” it becomes.

With precision push notification service, brands can woo users back with customized messaging based on a variety of factors: the number of days inactive, best re-engagement times, response to previous re-engagement attempts, and previous in-app behavior.

Here’s an example:

Mobile re-engagement through Push Message

Tip- Be conscious of the frequency of messaging. Being pushy increases the uninstall risk. Figure out the optimal frequency by testing different workflows.


6. New app features

Medium- In-app message

To introduce new users to features of an app, in-app messaging can serve as an app’s tour guide. This is a good opportunity for a brand to guide users through a complicated process, boost excitement about your app or convert trial users to paid subscribers if the new features are only included with a subscription.

Sometimes, users just forget about a feature. Sending an in-app message to point out the feature can give users more value out of the application.

If a new feature being promoted by an in-app message isn’t garnering many click-throughs, consider using a clickable button instead. Amazon used a large clickable button in its in-app message, as seen below, to introduce the company’s new advanced package tracking feature.

New app feature announcement through in-app message

Tip- Ensure that your call-to-action buttons are highly visible.


7. Time-sensitive alerts and reminders

Medium- Push notification

Time-sensitive alerts and reminders are best sent via push notification, as users aren’t always in the app when important news needs to be relayed. For appointment reminders, low-funds account balance warnings, and last-minute travel changes, users need to be notified via the fastest channel possible.

American Express sends mobile push notifications like the one below to its cardholders if suspicious activity is detected. With just a few taps on the phone, cardholders can either call Account Protection Services or verify charges to get them right back to using their card.

Time sensitive alert through app push notification

Tip- The conventional days don’t always work. Figure out an event or occasion that might be relevant to only a handful of the audience and push out an exclusive offer to them.


8. Feedback request

Medium- In-app message

Brands share app updates via in-app messages, to make it convenient for the user to be interactive immediately. They also allow for more creativity than most push notifications, as brands can use slides, images, full-screen notifications, and movement.

In-app messages for feedback sent right after a user experiences an update or beta feature can give brands some of the highest percents of responses and the best feedback. Here’s a simple in-app request for feedback that Mercari used to determine customer satisfaction.

Feedback request through in-app message

Tip- Take a 5 seconds test. If the user cannot complete the feedback in 5, optimize it.


9. Customer lifecycle campaigns

Medium- Push notification

Customer lifecycle campaigns—addressing customers at different points in their relationship with your products—are best communicated via mobile app notifications.

An example of a customer lifecycle might include:
Week 1: Customer “likes” a juicer on the store’s e-commerce site.
Push notification: “Click here to watch a video of our Super Juicer.”

Week 2: Customer watches a video on how the juicer works.
Push notification: “Buy the Super Juicer today and get free shipping!”

Week 3: Customer shares the video on social media.
Push notification: “Thanks for sharing our Super Juicer video. Here’s 10% off if you order today.”

Week 4: Customer comparison shops on juicer features and pricing.
Push notification: “Still thinking about our Super Juicer? We price match for 30 days after your purchase.”

Week 5: Customer buys the juicer.
Push notification: “Don’t forget to register your Super Juicer warranty!”

Week 6: Brand sends push notifications offering juicer recipes or cleaning tips.

Tip- Micro-segment your audience and test different workflows for each segment.


10. In-store beacons and flash sales

Medium- Push notification

Whether a brand features in-store beacons or just wants to notify users of a short-lived flash sale, push notifications are the best choice. They get messaging to a customer when the time is of the essence.

It’s not realistic to think that customers will always be active in a brand’s app during a time-restricted sale or promotion. Charlotte Russe used Push notifications to alert customers of its “Happy Hour” flash sale. Although the one-day sale was available online and in stores all day, the $25 “Boots & Booties” special was only in stores from 3 p.m. until 6 p.m.

Flash-Sale announcement through push message

Tip- Don’t go overboard with this one. Take care of the target audience’s timings. They sleep too just like you.


Wrap up

Both push notifications and in-app notifications are the next waves of communication for businesses. Research shows 4.77 billion people worldwide will own a smartphone by 2017, which means businesses must embrace mobile marketing methods to ensure a continued connection between brands and consumers.

Using the ten examples above, businesses can implement mobile customer engagement via push and in-app notifications with confidence, and reach customers in a way that makes sense for the times.

See How A Data Driven Strategy Can Improve Your User Engagement

  • Created: 16 Nov 2017
  • Last Updated: 19 Apr 2023



Lisa Content Marketer, McEwen's Media

Lisa is a WebEngage Blog contributor, freelance journalist, and co-owner of a media company, McEwen’s Media.

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