Has text messaging become retail’s go-to communication tool?

Discussion
Photo: @bongkarngraphic via Twenty20
Feb 17, 2021
Tom Ryan

Thirty-four percent of businesses adopted the use of texting because of the pandemic and 77 percent indicate they’ll continue post-COVID, according to a new study.

Overall, 70 percent of businesses surveyed were found to be texting to reach customers and employees, according to Zipwhip’s “State of Texting 2021” report. The results were based on a survey of over 2,000 businesses and consumers.

Consumer texting increased over the last year because of more time spent on mobile phones, the restrictions placed on in-person contact and the greater need for up-to-date information during the crisis. As in other areas, the pandemic is believed to have accelerated what was already a growing communication channel for businesses.

Speed continues to drive texting’s appeal as research shows many texts are read within minutes. By comparison, email communications from businesses are often overlooked by consumers and calls from businesses and unknown numbers frequently ignored, the study found.

Of the consumers surveyed, 58 percent said texting is the fastest way for businesses to reach them.

Appointment reminder texts were found to be the most valuable from a business, cited by 64 percent of consumers surveyed, followed by updates on shipments (48 percent) and discounts on products or services (29 percent). Thirty-nine percent of consumers used text messaging to manage curbside pickup of restaurant orders or groceries.

The research comes with a warning that text message inboxes are “personal and too many messages from one sender can feel invasive.” Opt-in is required yet nearly half of the businesses surveyed were unfamiliar with regulations that protect consumers from unwanted phone calls and text messages. Thirty-seven percent of businesses also used personal mobile devices for texting, creating risks to customer data and lacking management oversight of customer-employee conversations.

A Yotpo consumer survey from April 2020 found 41 percent of consumers prefer to receive messages from a brand via text, rivaling email (46 percent) and followed by social media (eight percent) and phone calls (six percent). The survey found that if messages are personalized, 54 percent are more likely to make a purchase and 41 percent are willing to share information with a brand.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: How would you rate the benefits and drawbacks of text messaging as a communication tool for retailers? Has it become the go-to option for customer service alerts such as delivery updates and curbside pickup?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
Braintrust
"Right now, text messaging is the last method of communication that is still reserved for family and friends."
"Text is a bit more personal than email. It is about immediacy and getting things done."
"If messages are personal and relevant, that’s one thing — if texting mimics those every-day-no-matter-what blanket emails, that’s a real problem."

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24 Comments on "Has text messaging become retail’s go-to communication tool?"


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David Naumann
BrainTrust

Based on my experience, I pay much more attention to text messages and I do get texts from a handful of retailers whose services I opted in for. I rarely read any emails from retailers and they are part of my routine of mass deleting emails on a daily basis. The drawback to texts is that you can’t communicate as much information, but maybe that is a blessing in disguise.

Perry Kramer
BrainTrust

Offering texting as one of several forms of communication with consumers has become a significant customer expectation. As stated most people respond to a text message much quicker than an e-mail. Retailers need to remember this is a two-way street. Consumers will expect that same quick turn-around. A general rule was that consumers expected a reply to an e-mail from a retailer within 12 hours. I would say that it is probably three or four minutes for a text message. With this in mind retailers need to be careful what they use text messages for. Letting a consumer know their order is ready for pick up is a good use case. Trying to solve a customer service issue is probably not a good use case. Retailers must be careful to not put the square peg in the round hole and they must be ready to meet consumer expectations when they introduce texting.

Neil Saunders
BrainTrust

Texting is a great option for alerts and notifications, mainly because it’s a very visible and immediate medium. However the one note of caution is to ensure that consumers are opted in for general marketing. Receiving a notification of an order is permissible. However sending marketing and advertising is often seen as more intrusive if express permission hasn’t been given – this especially applies to older generations.

Georganne Bender
BrainTrust

Texting is the fastest and most direct way to reach consumers, and of course companies like Zipwhip that sell text messaging software want it to be the next big thing. And maybe it will be. Someday.

But right now, text messaging is the last method of communication that is still reserved for family and friends. We may opt to receive texts for important deliveries, or reminders of places we’re supposed to be, but as a marketing tool? Not so much. Raise your hand if you have agreed to receive texts from a retailer because you wanted a coupon but then immediately opted out once you got it? Yeah, me too.

Suresh Chaganti
BrainTrust

Customers are a lot less forgiving for indiscriminate frequency in text messaging than they are for email messaging.

There is a time and place for text messaging – in terms of the time of the day, frequency of the messages, type of messages, uniqueness of the promotions, etc. Brands that overdo this will lose customer trust fast.

Dick Seesel
BrainTrust

Being somewhat old-school in my communication preferences, I have opted into very few retailers’ text messages — I find them intrusive, but I realize that’s the point. But there’s a risk of overkill — too many messages from the same retailers, or too many retailers heard from.

Constant texting of promotional messages (even if they include a link to a webpage) will eventually lead consumers to ignore the flood of information, just as many shoppers delete promotional emails without reading them. There needs to be a balance between attention-getting motivational techniques and intrusive violations of data privacy.

Bob Amster
BrainTrust

I am afraid that the preference for texting is generational, and I am in the wrong generation. As the article indicates, text messages as reminders have a true value. Random or repeated sales text messages are annoying. If we introduce the must-opt in factor, we mitigate the annoyance factor and elevate the value of text messages. Personally, I think text messages should be used to communicate emergencies to someone at the opera, or in the library. (Remember libraries?).

Cathy Hotka
BrainTrust

If messages are personal and relevant, that’s one thing — if texting mimics those every-day-no-matter-what blanket emails, that’s a real problem. How will customers opt out?

James Tenser
BrainTrust

Just reply “STOP” to any text you don’t want from a commercial entity.

Gary Sankary
BrainTrust

The benefit is that most people read texts today, especially when near real time communication is at issue. This is an example of retailers reacting to the market. The fact that 70 percent weren’t doing this before the pandemic highlights another problem in retail around technology adoption, which is a different topic. Retailers will want to keep in mind that messages need to be value added and contextual or they will find themselves blocked or subject to opt out.

This is how we’re communicating with each other, it makes sense that the companies we do business with would do the same thing.

Brandon Rael
BrainTrust

The old adage of meeting the customers where they are has led to retailers and brands leveraging personalized text messages as a way to connect. Texting and instant messaging have become the most immediate and accessible way to connect with people. Even the most personalized emails aren’t always read and may end up with the customer unsubscribing if they become overwhelming.

The keys to successful texting strategies are to be as authentic, creative, and personalized as possible, and address the individual needs of the customer on a more immediate basis. Texting could quickly become spam-like if not done correctly. So it’s a delicate balance — the messaging has to be curated and done to drive engagement and interest in your brand or service.

As long as the consumer has the option to opt in, or out, and control the types of communication preferences, texting is an impactful way of engagement.

Rich Kizer
BrainTrust

I believe that most retailers utilize text messaging because it is an easy, less time consuming way to have immediate contact with their customers. Though that immediacy is not always welcome. But it is a good tool when used wisely. During the pandemic, I have watched with interest the retail world find gold in short Facebook Live videos, showcasing new items, news of sales, etc. These are short burst messages that have good and, at times, great results.

Brian Cluster
BrainTrust

The benefit of text messaging as many others have said is the fact that it will likely be the quickest to be read. I believe that consumers value the alert benefits of a text versus the ongoing drum of marketing messages. Retailers and others using text to alert their consumers of delivery or if a vehicle is ready to pick up after repair seem to work best. But as retailers gain consumer trust, they should not violate that trust and should provide options to opt out of texts at any moment.

I have also heard of retailers communicating to employees via mass text and I don’t believe that this is the best communication option. Mass texts and their responses can be challenging for businesses, especially if a store is relatively large. It may be worthwhile for a retailer to evaluate, purchase and implement a business texting service so messages can be managed and documented versus using basic personal texting.

John Hennessy
BrainTrust

Email is the new snail mail. People check their texts far more regularly and react to texts more quickly than email. This is especially true of the busy families retailers want to reach. But using text comes with caveats as noted in the article. It begins with understanding the formal rules and includes understanding the informal rules. Customers using text to click and collect do not assume you will bombard them with text messages. Text is a bit more personal than email. It is about immediacy and getting things done. Follow both formal and informal rules of texting and you will gain direct access to valuable customers.

Rachelle King
BrainTrust

The more we rely on third parties to fulfill our grocery orders, the more we open ourselves up to the need for increased communication, there is no way around it. Merchants and brands who manage text messaging smartly (using opt-in rules) can actually benefit from increased customer satisfaction. Those who abuse it will feel the impact down stream. Few things are more annoying than unsolicited messages from merchants and brands, whether you do business with them or not. No doubt text messaging has become a more accepted way to keep customers in the know but merchants and brands have to remember the what and how often is the customer’s choice, not theirs.

Kathleen Fischer
BrainTrust

Text messaging is necessary in today’s environment when dealing with deliveries and curbside pickup. Interestingly, it used to be that emails were the primary and best form of customer communication, but now we all receive too many so it’s difficult to cut through the clutter. How long will it be before this happens with text messages also?

Oliver Guy
BrainTrust

SMS texts are fairly universal in that all phones can handle them – this alone makes them useful. However the amount of retail – particularly at the “start up phase” I am seeing where WhatsApp numbers are advertised is astonishing. This platform gives the ability to share detailed pictures, documents and other information with customers and also call them directly via video call. Alerts regarding order/delivery/pick-up status via text make a lot of sense for consumers as the ease of consumption is proportionate to the amount of information contained. They are also easy to automate so they make sense from the retailer side.

Bindu Gupta
BrainTrust

Text messaging from businesses can be a powerful tool to communicate with their customers. They are currently used and most effective to convey transactional messages such as order status details (shipped, delivered, returns) and renewals (memberships, subscriptions, recurring products). However, there is immense opportunity to leverage this level of engagement for non-transactional communications such as to get quick feedback on services and products and for birthday/anniversary acknowledgments. Bottom line is to use it wisely based on the customer’s lifecycle stage.

mobilehigh5
Guest

I work with a large number of independently owned retailers (brick and mortar and e-commerce) who have found adding text marketing to their marketing efforts is a game changer for them. To run an effective program and to ensure legal compliance, you really need someone who knows what they are doing which is why we only work under a full service model with our clients. We know the right message cadence, how to collect data that is helpful and then how to leverage that to better personalize the experience for the customer. With any technology, and with any marketing program, consistency, ability to drill deep into the analytics to learn and the knowledge to ramp up quickly can make all the difference between a successful initiative and one that fails.

James Tenser
BrainTrust

Opt-in “text clubs” have a multi-year history. The Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) defines how commercial SMS messages are handled, including the ability to opt-out. Compliance is regulated by the FCC. Among prominent SMS marketers, Subway restaurants has operated a text club for many years, which it uses to send out weekly offers to customers.

Beyond the promotional angle, there is useful utility for consumers who elect to receive notifications via text, as Tom outlines here. Handled properly, SMS messages provide a means for retailers to maintain connectivity with interested shoppers with a minimal level of intrusion.

Craig Sundstrom
Guest

For the most part, I would put this up (down?) there with “junk mail” and robo-calls on the list of “things people want to be subjected to.” (At least as far as “marketing opportunities” go; the actual question is somewhat different as it asks about usefulness as a communications tool … a narrower and more appropriate use.)

Karen S. Herman
BrainTrust

Brands that use text to communicate are fulfilling new found needs the customer is developing as they navigate shopping during the coronavirus pandemic. This customer wants information right away and demands frictionless shopping experiences that are contactless. Texting fulfills needs for immediacy, information, coordination, connection and safety between the brand and customer. It does need to be an opt-in that is approved by the customer for the brand to continue to build trust, however.

Shep Hyken
BrainTrust

Done the right way, customer engagement through text messaging, can be very powerful. Studies show the right type of engagement — a mix of promotion with value-added content — can increase sales, increase purchase frequency and increase the amount of each sale. The content of the above article covers this. The drawback comes from brands over-doing it. Just like a customer will delete and unsubscribe from emails, they can do the same on messaging platforms when the messages become overtly promotion with minimal value. Balance promotion with general content, and treat the contact info from the customer like it’s gold.

Casey Craig
BrainTrust

A survey from 2019 showed that m-commerce had doubled since 2015. More and more people are using their phones to shop, and that rate will only increase over time. Text messaging could help keep all communication from a brand to the customer in one place. This also helps with delivery and curbside pick-up, allowing the customer to make any changes or find all the details for the order in a quick and accessible way.

This article points out an important concern though: Retailers will need to be careful in how often they use this feature. Texts are one of the main forms of communication in today’s world. Everyone has a phone full of constant communication, and too many messages adding to that deluge could easily turn a customer off to a brand.

wpDiscuz
Braintrust
"Right now, text messaging is the last method of communication that is still reserved for family and friends."
"Text is a bit more personal than email. It is about immediacy and getting things done."
"If messages are personal and relevant, that’s one thing — if texting mimics those every-day-no-matter-what blanket emails, that’s a real problem."

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