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SMS marketing: best practices and tips for e-commerce brands

illustration of a woman holding her phone next to a large monitor showing an SMS message that says ‘today only! flash sale 50% off all designer shoes. shop now”

When was the last time you left your phone home or unplugged from messages?

Now, when was the last time you did this intentionally?

In today’s age of instant notifications, texting throughout the day is the norm – we want to reach our friends, families, and coworkers at light speed. Messages in green or blue bubbles appear daily on smartphones around the world, and almost 100% of those texts are read by their recipients.

So, why do brands hesitate to invest in such a popular form of communication?

Well, there’s an urban myth that consumers find text messages from brands annoying or even intrusive. The real question is… is this true? We’ve got some news for you – it’s not. In fact, studies have shown that consumers want more, not less, SMS marketing.

Your target audience is likely sending and receiving messages all day, and there’s a high chance that they have other brands reaching out via SMS.

Should you follow suit? We’re taking a deep dive into all you need to know about SMS marketing, and how your brand can incorporate this approach into your overall marketing strategy.

What is SMS marketing?

SMS marketing, or ‘short message service’ marketing, is the practice of sending out campaigns, promotions, updates, and more to customers via text message.

Similar to email marketing, SMS marketing is considered an owned channel, meaning you have full visibility and control over who receives your messages. However, there are a few major differences between email marketing and SMS marketing – namely, the channel of communication and the message type.

We all know what it’s like to open your inbox, only to find an immeasurable number of promotional emails, many of which go straight to the spam folder. While email marketing communications certainly have the ability to generate revenue when done properly, the sheer volume can be overwhelming for customers, leading to lower open and click-through rates.

Are we on the same road with SMS marketing? Not exactly.

Text message marketing provides customers with an easy opt-in/opt-out action, like simply replying “STOP” via text, whereas email marketing can prove more difficult to unsubscribe. This means that those customers who have opted-in to receiving your text messages likely want to read them.

Plus, unlike email, SMS presents a unique advantage of communicating with your audience through a more intimate channel than your typical digital marketing efforts.

So, does it work? Let’s dive into some numbers:

SMS marketing stats

Before getting into open rates, let’s take a step back and think about mobile devices in general.

Where is yours right now?

If you’re like most of the world, it probably isn’t sitting too far away from you.

Did you know that 85% of US adults own a smartphone? And rather than just using their devices for communicating, consumers are shopping as well. If consumers are already shopping on their phones, should brands be investing in SMS marketing in addition to other mobile optimization strategies?

Based on numbers, yes. SMS marketing delivers some incredible open rates. Why? Because consumers read their text messages. While they might not be checking their email every hour, they are definitely checking their texts more frequently.

In fact, according to a study by Gartner, 98% of text messages are opened. In comparison, emails have only a 20% open rate. And, that’s not all – over half of text messages get read within 5 minutes of being received.

This being said, brands shouldn’t begin sending out massive amounts of SMS marketing messages with no real strategy. Instead, they should understand what their audience is looking for and whether they’ll need to establish real-time, two-way communication or opt for more transactional messages.

If your brand is only sending out one-off, promotional texts without the ability to start a conversation, it can quickly become frustrating or annoying for your customers. When done right, however, SMS marketing can help your business connect with your audience on a deeper level.

Why e-commerce brands should invest in SMS marketing campaigns

SMS marketing, when done right, is an incredibly effective strategy with a strong ROI.

Not only does text marketing offer instant communication through a device that is practically always present and within your customers’ reach, but it also allows for more conversational marketing than your typical digital channels.

For example, if your customers are getting SMS messages from your brand and they have questions, you can work with an SMS marketing software that allows them to start a conversation, where questions will be sent directly to a customer service platform, like Zendesk.

Conversational marketing is a powerful tool among tech-forward, younger consumers like Millennials and Gen Z – they want instant gratification and immediate responses. Creating an SMS marketing program for your customers automatically boosts engagement and provides a more personalized experience than social media ads or email blasts, where the communication is mostly one-sided.

How does SMS marketing work?

There are plenty of approaches your brand can take when it comes to developing an SMS marketing strategy, but the overall goal is the same – to connect with your audience on a more intimate level.

Transactional SMS messages might include important information like an order confirmation number or a shipment update, whereas SMS campaigns take a more promotional approach – introducing a new product or sending out a series of messages that might help your customers navigate your site. Both have clear benefits:

  • Transactional messages are usually one-off texts triggered by an event like a purchase, shipping, or delivery. This means that the information provided via SMS to your customers is expected, warranted, and wanted!
  • SMS campaigns provide more flexibility in content, style, and message. Instead of simply sending order details or shipment updates, your brand may use text messages to create a stronger connection. This can look like a welcome series with first-time discounts or unique offers based on browsing and buying history.

Whether you want to create a full series over text or keep your strategy within the transactional space is completely up to you. It all depends on what you feel will resonate most with your customers.

Types of SMS marketing messages

Welcome messages

To acquire SMS subscribers, you’ll need to ask your customers to sign-up, either via email or directly on your website, like the apparel brand Lulu’s does below. The popular fashion brand takes it one step further by promising 15% off just from signing up for SMS messages.

lulu’s sign up form for SMS messages

After entering a mobile number into the form, customers will receive the below opt-in text, as well as a unique discount link.

SMS text messages from lulu’s to confirm text message sign up

Additionally, similar texts can be sent as a welcome to customers who sign up for loyalty programs or newsletters (as long as they have opted into SMS marketing campaigns).

Order confirmations and shipping updates

Perhaps the most straightforward SMS marketing message is the more transactional, informational approach. These text messages usually include pertinent information like tracking links and confirmation numbers – allowing customers to follow their order of the palm of their hand.

SMS messages alerting customer that their amazon package was shipped and has arrived
Image source: Tatango

Personalized promotions

Personalization matters in every channel of communication, including SMS campaigns. Did you know that 91% of consumers say they are more likely to buy from brands that provide relevant recommendations? It’s clear that personalizing all points of the buying journey is one of the most essential ways to boost your engagement.

Apparel brand Good Counsel sends personalized messages to their customers based on the particular size and style that they’ve purchased in the past. The content is completely relevant and unique to the customer – which is much more enticing than a general campaign!

a personalized SMS message from good counsel
Image source: Postscript

New product arrivals

Got a new product? Send a text about it! While your customers might miss an email or a social post, it’s very likely that they’ll see (and open) an SMS marketing text from your brand regarding a new product.

an SMS message alerting customer that there is a new FiGPiN release available
Image source: Omnisend

Flash discounts

Scarcity marketing is a great way to get your customers more invested in an offer. And what better channel to connect with them than through text? It’s a sure-fire way to know they’ll look at your offer, rather than brushing it off as just another promotional email.

Sending an SMS text message about a flash sale, as Princess Polly does below, is the perfect way to pique your audience’s interests:

SMS messages from princess polly welcoming customer to SMS messages and alerting them to a mystery flash sale
Image source: Yotpo

Cross-promotion of your social media channels

With an SMS marketing program in place, advertising your additional social channels or events is easy. Your customers have already opted-in to receive text messaging from your brand, so they won’t be annoyed with a little reminder, nudge, or personalized invite to various social media channels (or events!)

SMS message from nanamacs alerting customer that there is a new lookbook launch
Image source: Postscript

Asking for customer feedback

SMS marketing services don’t always have to include sending sales, discount codes or deals to your audience. It’s also a wonderful way to take a step back and get some insight and feedback from your loyal customers.

Asking your community for feedback shows them that you care. Plus, if it’s via text message, it makes a very easy response process – they can simply reply like they’re texting a friend!

tracking SMS messages from bushbalm skin co
Image source: Shopify

Best practices for SMS marketing

So, you’ve decided you want to develop your SMS marketing strategy, but you’re not sure where to start. Not to worry! We’ve got you covered with some best practices and tips for a smooth launch:

Always get your customers to opt-in

If consumers are interested in your brand, there’s a high chance they’ve explored your website and social media pages – maybe even signing up for an email newsletter. All of these channels are great ways to get your customers to sign up for SMS messages. Whether it’s via an on-site pop-up or a link in an email, consider offering an incentive such as a discount off their next purchase to fuel opt-ins.

But remember, text messages are inherently personal – it’s a direct line of communication to your customers.

This being said, it’s incredibly important to make sure your customers know exactly what they’re signing up for. And, legally speaking, you shouldn’t be sending any SMS marketing texts to your customers if they haven’t already opted-in to receiving them.

If your customers do decide to opt-in, make sure there’s a clear “opt-out” option presented from the very beginning, like a simple “STOP.” This way, they feel completely in control of their experience.

Invest in SMS marketing automation

Using SMS marketing software to automate your messages can help deliver valuable insight into your strategy and take some of the pressure off of manual processes. With metrics readily available via an SMS platform, you’ll be able to optimize and improve your campaigns to make the most out of each text.

SMS marketing platforms to consider:

  • Klaviyo helps kickstart your brand’s personalized, automated text message marketing.
  • Yotpo offers quick-start SMS marketing plans for growing brands to build their strategy and channel from scratch.
  • Omnisend takes an omnichannel approach, with one platform for both email & SMS marketing.

Make your messages personal

Did you know that companies who add personalization to their customer experience actually generate more revenue than those who don’t? Personalization is key! Consumers are expecting personalized experiences at every touchpoint of their buying journey, and this includes text message marketing.

Instead of a simple product launch text, can you use your customers’ previous purchases to understand whether they’d enjoy the new product or not? Did an out-of-stock item just re-stock in their size? Let them know!

And always, try to use your customers’ names – it’s the most personal thing you can do.

Ensure it’s clear who your SMS is from

This may be the most important practice of them all! It seems like every week there’s a new scam to be on the lookout for, which makes it all the more essential that your texts are clearly from your brand.

Use links to your site, branded images, and most importantly… your brand name! Anything you can do to let your customers know that it’s you, and not a phishing scheme, will build your customers’ trust in your brand over time.

Additionally, keep an extra eye out for any grammatical errors in your texts – it could be the deciding factor for a customer who is unsure of whether they’ve gotten a valid CTA from your brand or a scam.

Keep your SMS short and sweet

With texting, the shorter the better! Why? SMS messages are typically maxed out at 160 characters. If you’re going above this count, your messages could be broken up, chopped into multiple texts, and ultimately, lose some of their meaning!

Plus, if you have to include your brand name as well as an opt-out message, there’s not a ton of space left to work with. Try shortening your links to save on characters, or explore a multimedia messaging service with an image that has some additional information.

Be mindful of how many SMS you send to customers (and when you send them!)

Unlike emails, text messages get opened relatively quickly – the stakes seem somewhat higher for whoever is on the receiving end. This means that you should be mindful of not only how many texts you’re sending, but also the times you’re sending them.

How many SMS is too many? There’s no magic number that has been discovered in recent years, but a general range is 2-6 text messages per month, or around once per week, give or take. Try to stick only to the most relevant and timely messages with clear CTAs so not to annoy customers.

The power comes within the message itself, so if you have an exciting new launch – send that text! But of course, keep in mind the time zone your audience members may be in. There’s nothing worse than being woken up from a deep sleep by a 2am text message (especially if it’s from a brand!)

Should e-commerce brands utilize SMS marketing strategies?

In short, yes. The open rates are stellar, there’s a ton of technology for automated campaigns, and it’s another way to connect with your customers!

But, like with any other marketing channel, there should be a clear strategy to your messaging. It won’t do your brand any good to blast off a ton of texts without truly thinking about who they’re going to and what the messaging is.

Text message marketing is the epitome of meeting your customers right where they are. There’s a phone within a few feet radius of your customers at all times – it only makes sense to optimize your marketing strategy for mobile devices and include text messages.

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