SMS for eCommerce: Everything You Need To Know

SMS for eCommerce: Everything You Need To Know
Written by
Richard Emanuel
Published on
October 6, 2020
Read time

When you hear that unmistakable ding! that marks the arrival of a new text message, what do you do? If you’re like most of us, you reach straight for your phone and give it a glance.

In a world of over-cluttered inboxes, text messaging still holds a unique power to get our attention. With open rates hovering near 100% and a healthy response rate of 45%, SMS handily beats engagement levels for email, which has average rates of 20% and 6% respectively.

This isn’t to say email marketing is dead. In fact, we’re some of its biggest fans. Instead, we’re here to make a case for SMS marketing as one valuable part in your overall digital strategy. Here, we’ll tell you everything you need to know about SMS for eCommerce and how to use it effectively to drive sales and enhance your brand experience.

The case for SMS marketing

A lot of emails go unread. We’re talking millions.

The average person receives 124 emails a day, and thanks to automatic filtering, many of them don’t even make it to the inbox. The number of texts people send and receive each day varies widely by age group, but most estimates place the average number somewhere between 50 and 65 texts a day. That’s roughly half the volume of email, and 90% of texts are read within three minutes.

Simply put, text messages get attention.

They’re also highly customizable. By using an application that integrates SMS messaging with your website, email marketing and other digital channels, you have an unsurpassed ability to personalize your message based on the individual’s behavior and preferences. You can take an experience that started in the web browser and continue it on email, then follow up with a text message. It enables your brand to build a truly integrated digital experience.

Text messaging for eCommerce presents a unique opportunity to have a continuous  conversation with your customers. Think about when a friend texts you. For a refresher on the last conversation you had with them, all you have to do is take a moment and scroll up the thread. For brands, this means the ability to create an uninterrupted interaction where one message leads seamlessly into the next (more on this in our section on how to use SMS for eCommerce below).

Respecting customers’ devices

There’s one big consideration when it comes to SMS for eCommerce that we as brands can’t lose sight of. It’s the awareness that what’s viewed by companies as an amazing personalized marketing opportunity can easily be viewed by customers as creepy. There’s a fine line between helpful and invasive, and if you cross that line you’ll lose the customer’s trust forever.

Though the engagement level for text messaging is high, the tolerance level for spam is very low. This means we must approach it at all times from a position of utmost respect for the customer’s device, time and privacy.

How can we do this? By acquiring proper consent and giving customers ample opportunity to opt out. Unless a customer has explicitly opted in to receive SMS messages from your brand, under no circumstances should you text them. Additionally, the first text you send should be a message confirming their opt-in status. An email opt-in does not equal a text messaging opt-in.

While this may seem like a lot of hoops to jump through, it’s actually to your benefit. Acquiring clear consent and making it easy to opt out ensures that you’re only talking to people who want to be engaged with your brand. Think about it — they’ve made a conscious decision that they want to hear from you and they’ve entrusted you with something as precious as their phone number. They’ve self-identified as your brand loyalists. It’s hard to get a bigger buy-in than that.

SMS compliance best practices

SMS marketing presents a bit of a challenge in terms of compliance because there’s no overarching piece of legislation that explicitly governs it the way GDPR does for consumer data. Instead, in the US we can take compliance guidance from two existing bodies of information: TCPA and CTIA.

TCPA is the Telephone Consumer Protection Act. It was passed in 1991 and was originally meant to address invasive telemarketers, but we can apply its principles to SMS marketing. TCPA prohibits the “unsolicited advertisement” of any property, goods, or services without a person’s prior permission or invitation. Each violation of TCPA is subject to a fine of anywhere from $500 to $1,500.

CTIA is the Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association. It’s a watchdog organization that has laid out a set of best practices businesses should follow when sending text messages for marketing purposes. Though you can’t be fined for not following them, CTIA can report your organization to the big mobile carriers, who can suspend you from sending further SMS marketing messages.

To conduct SMS for eCommerce effectively, you should familiarize yourself with both of these sets of guidelines.

How to use SMS for eCommerce

Once you’ve gotten a customer’s permission to contact them via text message, that’s where the exciting stuff begins. Here are just a few of the top ideas for using SMS messaging to drive revenue and create meaningful customer interactions.

1. Share sales and promotions

This one’s a no brainer: use texts to inform customers about sales. The key is not to overdo it. Use promotional texts sparingly, like for your biggest sale of the season or when a product the customer was eyeing is about to go out of stock.

2. Send location-based messages

I’m opted in to text messages from one of my favorite apparel companies. I recently had a friend visiting and we were sightseeing in Manhattan. While we were out and about, I got a text: “Take 50% off clearance now in our Times Square store!”

If I hadn’t opted in, this may have felt intrusive. But because this is a brand I shop with all the time and gave permission to text me, it felt perfectly relevant, like a friend alerting me to a great deal.

If you have brick-and-mortar locations in addition to your online store, location-based messaging can create an awesome bridge between the digital and the physical shopping experience.

3. Remind about abandoned carts

By 2021, 53% of all retail eCommerce is expected to be generated via mobile shopping. Make it easier for customers to shop from their smartphones by sending personalized texts to remind them to complete their purchase.

The message threading capabilities we mentioned earlier come in handy here. For example, you might send an abandoned cart message 48 hours after a customer fails to complete checkout. Two weeks later, when the item has limited stock left, you might send a ‘last chance!’ message.

The possibilities are exciting, but once again, we return to the theme of respecting customers’ devices. You’ll want to send shopping-related text messages at a much lower frequency than you’d send marketing emails. Limiting SMS contacts to once or twice per month is ideal.

4. Offer text-based customer service

This might be a long way off for small- to medium-sized businesses, but it’s something we predict will only grow in popularity in the coming years. Customers crave convenient ways to get in touch with companies when they have a problem, and SMS is just one more mode you can offer them to do that. Ready to explore SMS marketing for your online store? We have the knowledge and tools you need to do SMS for eCommerce the right way. Schedule a consultation with our team today and let’s chat about adding text messaging to your growth strategy.