Mobile devices are ubiquitous, affecting nearly every part of our lives. They’ve changed how we interact with each other, how we access information and how we shop. The result for retailers is a growing use of text marketing as sellers adapt to the pervasiveness of smartphones and other devices in customers’ daily activities.
Specialty home furnishings retailer Lamps Plus added a text channel soon after the pandemic began impacting retail. Customers can use SMS to ask questions and get help from the team’s certified designers, gaining nearly real-time access to product views not shown on the website and recommendations on which item best fits their application.
“We’re able to leverage our store teams, which is where our expertise lies, but turn it into a nationwide function.”
Terre Wellington, Lamps Plus
“You can take a picture of your dining room and send it to a designer,” says Terre Wellington, senior vice president of store operations at the Chatsworth, Calif.-based brand. The Lamps Plus team then creates a mock-up of the customer’s home environment with various product ideas. “Because you asked for our help, we’ll send you pictures that include the chandelier you were considering, plus other options,” Wellington says.
The availability of SMS has been a boost for Lamps Plus, providing new ways to interact with people outside its store areas. “We’re able to leverage our store teams, which is where our expertise lies, but turn it into a nationwide function,” Wellington says. The widescale shift away from in-store shopping triggered by store closures and stay-at-home orders elevated the need for a strong digital presence, and text has been a welcome addition to the Lamps Plus strategy.
A captive audience
Research conducted by ecommerce marketing platform provider Yotpo reveals how shoppers’ perspectives on mobile engagement has shifted. Email, the historically dominant channel for brand messages, still holds the top spot with 46 percent of consumers saying it’s their preferred way to receive communications. However, 41 percent now say they prefer SMS; social media is a distant third at 8 percent.
According to Yotpo’s study, 48 percent of consumers have already signed up to receive text messages from at least one brand, and the trend toward text as a marketing tool accelerated when COVID-19 hit the scene. “We saw — during lockdown especially — people were captive to their screens and open rates went through the roof,” says Raj Nijjer, vice president of marketing at Yotpo.
For Cratejoy, an Austin, Texas-based ecommerce subscription box service that covers interests from health and beauty to fitness, gaming and crafts, text marketing has shown the most success around welcome messages and cart abandonment automations.
It’s also been helpful in maintaining ongoing connections with customers. “Ordered and shipped notifications are great for overall engagement while also a great opportunity for upsell/cross-sell as well,” says Brandon Hupp, Cratejoy’s email and SMS marketing manager. New arrivals, discounts and alerts are part of the brand’s text marketing strategy as well.
“Almost everyone looks immediately at an SMS message, but it could take a few days to look at an email promotion.”Brandon Hupp, Cratejoy
Wellington believes convenience and speed are primary factors behind shoppers’ increased willingness to engage through text messaging. “Whether they want to buy online, walk in a store or just call with questions, if a customer sent you a text and you responded five minutes later, once you’ve engaged you can have a conversation without getting too personal,” he says.
That first text serves as a valuable stepping stone, enabling customers to develop an immediate connection with a retailer — something that could take several hours to a few days if done via email — and giving brands a way to build relationships using the channel that’s most useful to each customer at that moment.
The move to a mobile-first environment has also shifted opinions on how text fits into the shopping journey. Hupp says the evolution means customers “are more open to SMS alerts especially as it pertains to transactional messages.” Because mobile devices are readily available in shoppers’ pockets and checked multiple times a day, it’s a communication channel that’s quick and efficient.
“Almost everyone looks immediately at an SMS message, but it could take a few days to look at an email promotion,” Hupp says. Many people are already accustomed to texting when messages are time-sensitive; they appear willing to share that same immediacy with their favorite retailers, too.
Feedback on the Lamps Plus text program has been positive, particularly in the brand’s trade division focused on home builders and other industry buyers. Customers’ ability to reach their assigned personal agent at a moment’s notice has proved valuable. “The customer may be on a job site and have a question about a fan that doesn’t work,” Wellington says. Time is critical when a contractor is standing in a client’s home trying to resolve a problem, and texting has a leg up on traditional email.
“Our job is to respond quickly so that person looks great,” Wellington says. “They appreciate the speed and the ability to reach agents swiftly.”
One concern is that texting has the potential to be highly disruptive — mobile devices being omnipresent and incoming SMS often given priority from users — but Cratejoy has been mindful to avoid message fatigue. “This is why order and shipping confirmations are so successful,” Hupp says, “plus they convey accountability, which drives trust with your consumers.”
A text communication strategy centered on transactional and time-relevant messages gives customers quick access to the information and news they most want to see.
Nijjer doesn’t recommend retailers adopt text just for its own sake: He sees its strength focused in a couple of areas. “SMS is really unique in that you can have an engaging conversation that’s bi-directional,” he says. Brands might consider leveraging the channel to drive more highly personalized, real-time, conversational interactions, such as specific product recommendations based on previous purchases.
Another option is to develop text as a VIP customer list. “You can create SMS as a unique type of club that not everyone has access to,” Nijjer says. That could work well with social media followers or existing customers, allowing them to sign up for larger discounts or unique sales and product notifications. “There are a lot of different ways to get customers to be part of this community,” he says.