I'm debating the pros/cons of opening a live chat window as a popup vs. a new tab. The context is that the user is in a shopping cart. A chat invitation slides up, with a button that says "start a chat".

Due to limitations in development time, we can't pin the chat window to the current window. We're launching imminently, and we have 2 options:

  1. Pop up the chat window as a popup, on top of the shopping cart screen
  2. Open the chat window as a new tab

What are the pros and cons of these options?

  • 1
    By pop-up are you including a modal?
    – Mayo
    Oct 8 '15 at 23:59
  • I don't understand your limitations. If you can open a window in a popup or a different tab, you can certainly embed it, which is probably the best way to go about this
    – Devin
    Oct 9 '15 at 1:28
  • Why not a non-modal overlay? Maybe I'm not appreciating the nature of your limitation. Nov 8 '15 at 6:07
  • 1
    A non-modal new window is the most common method that I have seen. Jan 7 '16 at 13:56
  • 1
    I've almost always experienced support chat pop ups as a new window (a real window, not a tab, not a modal window on the same browser page). At least on desktop, that's what I would recommend if only out of familiarity. Don't have quite enough experience to flesh that out into an answer though.
    – Ben Brocka
    Jan 7 '16 at 14:07

First, desktop view:



  • If you open a new tab, you have no control on users' settings. Their browsers could be set to focus on new opened tab or not -> if not a user could think that "start a chat" button doesen't work. A work-around could be giving advice to users to go on the new tab if it didn't open automatically;
  • A chat window does not need so much space as a normal page. It could be dispersive and hard to read;
  • If the user isn't really smart, could ignore that he has the power to undock the tab for best positioning in a double view cart/chat;
  • It's not a standard use.

PRO: - I can't see.


I think you mean pop-up real window (not a modal), because if you could use a modal you could bring the chat in-page in a better way, so...


  • User could have activated a pop-up blocker (you could solve with a tip);


  • It's a standard use;
  • You can give it the right dimensions;
  • Everyone will be able to have a double view chat/cart.

Even pop-up or new tab are bad for mobile, because both are new tab on mobile browsers and mobile devices are lack of memory so it could cause unintentional refresh switching by your two tabs.


As a result of your constraints, I would recommend tab. This would give your users on mobile to still have direct access to your site and resources. Otherwise it becomes a game of memorizing what data was on the page that you can't see on mobile because a modal is interfering with the user experience of the page/cart.

  • Using an additional tab or window might cause problems on some mobile or tablets, as to save memory browsers sometimes dumps the inactive tabs and causes a refresh when you bring that tab back to being active. Oct 9 '15 at 8:14

The best decision for this will come from testing with a wide range of users.

Given that you're in "just ship it" mode and probably don't have time I would urge that a new tab is better for those with access needs and so should be the first choice.Much has been done with screen readers etc that means modal displays are no longer the evil they once were, however tabs are a more recognised pattern and will be more usable by those unfamiliar with your specific modal display and how to close it.


That's a good one.

A popup (modal, I guess), blocks the user from doing anything (and potentially seeing most of what's) on the interface.

A new tab, creates a parallel split that could give the impression you have left the system.

Personally, I think the tab option is better - not ideal, but at least it leaves the user in control, whereas by using a modal you introduce usage-constraints, which are not really justified here - the constraints that come with modals are justified sometimes, but in this case originate from technical rather than usability considerations.

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