The Ups and Downs of Push Notifications on Apps

What are push notifications?

The term push notifications have been thrown about increasingly in the last few years or so as technology is forever advancing. For brands these have become more important as it gives them new ways in which to communicate with their customers. Forever hungry for new information, the technology world has had to make a rapid advancement. Brands may know what this term means, but to the average user, do we actually know? Apps on smartphones are frequently asking if they can send push notifications, some may agree, but do we even know what we’re agreeing to?

Thankfully, Guo et al (2015) clearly define the two types of delivery systems, and they seem pretty harmless.

A push delivery system, or a push notification to you and me, means that the consumer can “choose to let newly generated content to be delivered to them”. The company or content providers usually determine the frequency and information broadcasted. The Veterinary Record (2015) follow this up by stating that individuals tend to get information as soon as it goes live, perhaps even sometimes before it makes it to websites and other platforms. Some examples of push notifications include, live game scores, stock market updates, fitness apps can remind you to keep active, and information from individual apps can be sent to you automatically should you agree.

A pull delivery system, allows the users to manually check for information on their own terms. The information is made available on the Internet somewhere, and it’s down to the individuals to go looking for the content. Think along the lines of emails on your smartphone. Push would automatically download new messages, pull would mean manually refreshing the inbox.

“The key difference between the two is who initiates delivery.” (Ma, 2015) So now we know what the difference is, what do push notifications actually mean for a retailer?


Source: AutoConversion. (2016) How Social Media Ads Are Just Another Form Of Push. [Online], <> [Accessed 7th May]


3 reasons for brands to use push notifications 

Urban Airship (2016) stated 3 reasons as to why brands will use push notifications and why they can be beneficial for both brand and user.

  1. Provide convenience

Who wouldn’t want information sent straight to your smartphone, it’s the ultimate lazy feature of the app world. Just sit tight and wait for the brand to send you a deal. So for users it’s convenient, and for brands it’s easy to get messages across. Upsight (2014) do however mention that brands need to ensure they’re making notifications relevant and interesting, otherwise the consumers will start looking elsewhere as there are so many alternatives.

Screen Shot 2016-05-07 at 17.50.23

Source: Localytics. (2015) 2015: The Year That Push Notifications Grew Up. [Online], <> [Accessed 7th May]


  1. Speak directly to consumers

So as much as push notifications are useful for the consumer, they also provide huge benefit for the brand. Allowing information to reach each individual without getting put in the junk inbox or getting stopped by ad-blockers and other clever software it means that brands can communicate directly. “Click-through rates can be twice as high as email” (Urban Airship, 2016), which is pretty impressive if you ask me, and these can “encourage inactive users to re-engage with an app” (Localytics, 2015).


  1. Drive actions

Drive actions basically includes everything from promoting new products, to discounts, to converting attention to other channels such as social media sites for that particular company. Things that will inspire the consumers to engage with the brand in one-way or another.

Screen Shot 2016-05-07 at 17.49.58

Source: Localytics. (2015) 2015: The Year That Push Notifications Grew Up. [Online], <> [Accessed 7th May]


“Push messages continued to improve app user engagement and retention and companies increasingly took the path to personalization.” (Localytics, 2015)

To read more about user engagement and app personalisation, check out my previous blogs. Additionally, The App Entrepreneur (2013) wrote a short article on whether push notifications are worthy or not. Their conclusion? Worthy if used correctly for both customer and brand. This seems to be a common theme, so how can we make sure we’re getting it right…?


Learning from the best

Andrew Chen has written a fantastic article on push notifications and click through rates, showing some good and bad examples. Netflix seems to have push notifications operating well, with messages going to individuals when new episodes are uploaded – but will only notify you of the shows you are currently watching. No point knowing about something you’ve never seen before right?


Source: Chen, A. (2014) Push notification click-through rates. [Online], <> [Accessed 7th May]


For some more examples of good push notifications and varying ways to word them, check out Quora. I’m sure there are plenty of brands out there that can take a leaf out this book…

So far you’re probably thinking these push notification things are doing a lot of good: they increase user engagement and help the brand at the same time, BUT, as with everything there’s always a catch or disadvantage.

In this case, it’s that push notifications can actually become ineffective if they are being used incorrectly. For example, if they are being sent too often, include irrelevant information, or at the wrong time. Brands need to be careful to personalize these messages to the max; otherwise they just become time wasting for all involved. Localytics (2015) state that “52% of app users are already finding push messages to be an annoying distraction”, and seeing as these notifications are usually optional, they’re running the risk of being cut off altogether. Push notifications also need to be connected to a data source at all times, so they can potentially waste battery life on phones and drain mobile plans. Something for brands to consider when setting their frequencies.

To summarise, the below table discusses the pros and cons for both consumer and brand.

Pros Cons
Instant up to date information and deals for consumer Can be annoying if sent too frequently
Reminded to take actions Need to be sent in users time-zones (nobody likes being woken up at 4am by a push notification)
Works in advertising for brand, and increases user retention Irrelevant information
No effort involved for consumer Decreases battery life on phones
Can be personalised Being optional – for brands they could be cut off from the customer

At the end of the day it’s down to the consumer to decide whether they use push notifications or not, so a brand would be silly not to offer this service.

Keep it short, keep it simple and keep it engaging.



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