Add SMS to an e-commerce marketing mix

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Text messaging can help e-commerce marketers engage and retain customers, but it’s not a replacement for email communication or mobile apps.

By 2021, about 280 million Americans will own a smartphone out of a total population of 328.2 million, according to Statista. Smartphones are ubiquitous, in other words.

Many smartphone owners are apparently addicted to their devices, looking at them between 80 and 100 times a day, depending on which survey you read.

Text messaging – specifically, short message service (SMS) communication – is among the most popular smartphone applications. An often quoted 2016 Gartner Report, for example, found that text messages had an open rate of around 98%. And several other surveys estimate that many smartphone users will read a text message within five minutes of receiving it.

Most American adults use a smartphone and check it regularly. Photo: Jayana Rashintha.

It’s clear that people love text messaging. Arri Bagah, conversational marketer and founder of Conversmart, a marketing company, says that around 80% of e-commerce customers want to receive SMS.

If, however, commercial companies misuse SMS, it is likely that customers will start unsubscribing, blocking and ignoring these messages.

So how does an online marketer strike a balance and use SMS communications in a way that both pleases the customer and improves profits? Here are seven tips to help you.

7 SMS tips for e-commerce

1. Start with transactional messages. Perhaps the most obvious use of SMS for e-commerce is for transactional messaging. Many businesses already use text to notify shoppers when an order is received, shipped, and delivered.

These types of messages are simple and informative.

During the checkout process, ask buyers if they want SMS notifications. Then add them to your SMS list accordingly.

2. Get a Net Promoter Score. Use your company’s transactional text messages as the basis for actionable marketing insights, such as getting a net promoter score from new customers.

An NPS is a great key performance indicator for tracking the growth potential of an e-commerce business.

Many companies routinely use NPS with email. While texting isn’t a direct replacement for email, there are some things texting can do better. Soliciting NPS responses is one of those things.

Merchants can automate the process by sending an NPS survey to a question via SMS shortly after a customer’s order is delivered.

The result of the investigation may trigger other actions, such as notifying a customer service agent or sending a follow-up question.

3. Use text for chat. Monitor your web analytics for the percentage of visitors from a mobile device. This percentage can be 50% or more depending on your products and your target audience.

With this in mind, some retailers and B2B sellers are using SMS instead of online chat.

Both experiences are similar for the user. A chat icon is displayed somewhere on the page, often in the lower right corner. When she opens the chat window, the buyer can (for text messaging) provide her name and a text number instead of immediately typing a question.

Podium and SimpleTexting are examples of text messaging and chat providers.

Screenshot of a text messaging interface on a website.

SMS chat is similar to web chat. There’s a familiar icon, for example, but the conversation is quickly moved to text messaging rather than chat.

It is worth mentioning that SMS chat can be used in several ways. Some commerce companies offer an online chat service to visitors on a desktop computer and text chat to people on a mobile device. It’s even possible to offer both text and online chat and let visitors choose.

4. Ask for an opinion. Text messages can be a good tool for generating reviews.

Here is a scenario. Imagine a buyer is texting with a customer service representative from your company. The representative helped this buyer find a few products.

It would be perfectly reasonable to send an automated text message at the end of this conversation, requesting a customer service review.

Similarly, if a shopper has responded to an NPS survey with a high score, consider sending an automated text message asking them to rate the products they purchased.

5. Use RFM-based automation. The recency, frequency, and monetary value model can help e-commerce marketers identify and market sets of customers based on their transactional history.

One way to apply the RFM model is through triggered and automated marketing workflows.

For example, when a long-time customer hasn’t purchased in a while, prompting them to move from a 555 to a 455 in a five-point RFM model, an automated workflow can assign a task to a customer service representative. This rep would look up the customer and send a personal re-engagement text message.

6. Avoid excessive discounts. Some retailers and B2B sellers are constantly putting products up for sale unnecessarily.

While discounting has its place in both retail and wholesale transactions, it can be overdone. This is especially true when a marketer is working with a relatively new promotional tool.

For example, I saw a YouTube video where an enthusiastic marketer suggested placing a banner on an e-commerce checkout page that read, “Text [phrase] for [number] to receive jaw-dropping VIP offers right now.

This idea makes little sense. This encourages an interruption in the payment process and a “breathtaking” discount that is probably not necessary to close the sale.

7. SMS and the hammer. Finally, there’s the old adage that when you hold a hammer, everything looks like a nail.

SMS can be a useful marketing tool, but it’s not a direct replacement for email or a native mobile app.

Here is an example. Suppose an e-commerce business wants to share a few discounted items with its customers. What would be better: an SMS or a push notification from a mobile application installed on the customer’s phone? What if this business wanted to link to five marketing articles. Should he use an e-mail newsletter or an SMS?

A text message probably makes the least sense either way. Instead of forcing it into every marketing situation, only use text messaging when it’s most effective.

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