For most merchants, mobile is no longer merely a priority topping a project list — it’s an essential component of their overall growth strategy. As they heed the imperative to innovate, merchants shouldn’t overlook a commonplace, but potentially effective, eCommerce mobile communications channel: SMS (or text) messaging.
Mobile’s dominance of online shopping is by now evident. Not only does mobile account for the majority of time spent interacting with retail brands, but mobile phone shopping is the leading driver of online-influenced store sales, accounting for some $1 trillion in revenues in 2015. And by some estimates, in just two years the majority of all Web traffic globally will originate on mobile devices — meaning that merchants who haven’t adopted “mobile first” as their guiding principle will struggle to remain competitive.
As a result, when merchants were asked to name their top priorities for 2016, mobile topped the list, as merchants scramble to stay ahead of consumer expectations for seamless experiences wherever and however they choose to shop.
Amidst the rush to innovate, it’s easy to forget about text messaging, that most basic of mobile tools, which predates smartphones. But while it may not be flashy, text messaging is ubiquitous; some 96 percent of smartphone owners use it. And users not only read text messages, but engage further: 57 percent of consumers report taking action directly after reading a text message – making it a potentially effective channel for driving interactions with merchant brands.
Perhaps in response to this potential for immediacy and engagement, merchants are awakening to the SMS messaging opportunity. Some 51 percent of marketers report using mobile text messaging in 2016 — more than double the percentage in 2015.
Holdouts may be stymied by the high threshold of relevance needed in order to justify the immediacy and potential intrusiveness of a text message. Some 24 percent of consumers who unsubscribed from mobile messaging alerts said they did so because message content missed the mark, while another 52 percent said messages were too frequent, another sign that SMS campaigns are mis-aligned with recipients’ needs.
The good news is that merchants can hone their SMS priorities for maximum relevance, even if they haven’t achieved the holy grail of a unified omnichannel customer profile or instituted beacons or geofencing in stores. To develop an effective eCommerce mobile messaging program, merchants should consider:
Focusing on customer service first and foremost
In the past 12 months, 35 percent of consumers have used SMS for customer service — more than have used Twitter for that purpose. Merchants who offer customer service-related text notifications such as shipping updates, back-in-stock alerts, and in-store pickup instructions are delivering highly pertinent information in a portable format that shoppers can use immediately or summon when needed. And customer service by text can go beyond automated triggers; one-to-one text dialogues can help merchants stay connected with shoppers anywhere until issues are resolved, demonstrating a commitment to follow-through.
Promote localized deals to in-store shoppers
Given that more than two-thirds of smartphone owners report using their devices to look for coupons and 60 percent conduct research on their phones while in stores, merchants should use prominent store signage to promote on-demand messaging that delivers the latest store specials and coupons. Ace Hardware advertises its in-store SMS coupon service with end cap displays and point-of-sale signage.
This messaging tactic puts shoppers in control of whether to receive store-specific information, thereby eliminating the “creepy” factor from location-based alerts. As part of the triggered message, merchants can seek permission to subscribe shoppers to ongoing SMS updates.
Coordinate and standardize messaging across SMS, apps, and social
Thanks to the proliferation of direct-messaging tools built into social platforms such as Facebook, as well as newer social messaging networks such as WhatsApp and Snapchat, there are more avenues than ever for merchants to deliver direct text messages. However many messaging channels merchants use, they must strike a balance: avoid blizzarding shoppers with multiple duplicate notifications, while at the same time ensure that messages across touchpoints are consistent in tone and content. For example, staff providing support via SMS should follow the same protocols as those responding to social media direct messages, with the same access to information and the same latitude when it comes to offering discounts or free shipping.
What eCommerce mobile messaging or SMS strategies have proved most effective for your business?