Winter 2018
Text Messaging Services: Are They Right For You? By Keith Loria

A look at why stores should be using text messaging

Every few years, store owners are presented with a new technology to help them improve their reach with customers. First it was email, then social media, and now many marketing experts are recommending using text messages to communicate, a process known as SMS marketing.

SMS stands for “Short Message Service” and offers retailers the opportunity to communicate with customers by using 160-character messages.

Having a special sale on gift cards? Has a new item hit the shelves? Alert your customers fast and easily with a text.

The age of the smartphone has revolutionized how consumers obtain and process information and SMS marketing has become a valuable asset to retailers attempting to reach a broader market.

Studies show that individuals conduct more than half of their day-to-day activities on their phones, plus 99 percent of texts are read compared to just 20 percent of emails opened. Texts also have a 45 percent average response rate, compared to a 3 percent average email engagement rate. And these numbers are even larger among the ever-important millennial segment.

“SMS is crucial for businesses, because the cornerstone of good business is connecting and engaging with customers,” said Peter Watson, a marketing specialist out of Sunrise, Florida. “Text is the best way to do that and it would be smart for anyone running a gift shop to give it a try.”

And there are myriad ways to add texting/SMS into a retailer’s communications, whether it’s for promotions, making sales, or just handling customer service.

Watson recommends the best way to have success with SMS is to text customers like you would text your friends.

“You don’t spam your friends or send them robotic messages. You text them with relevant information, give them a heads-up, or set up times to meet/talk,” he said. “Use emoji’s, be kind, and don’t take yourself too seriously.”

If you are offering a special sale, send a text like: “Hey [Jordan], past customers get an extra 20 percent off everything this weekend. Come look around, or let me know if you want something in particular.”

“Texting is one of the more personal things we do every day. Marketers send emails, salesmen make phone calls, and friends text. What small business doesn’t want to be like a friend to customers?” Kenneth Burke, marketing director for Text Request, said. “No one is interested in making their life more difficult, but everyone wants to make their life easier. In most situations today, a text is the most convenient way to communicate. And since communication is needed for your business to succeed, texting is a necessity.”

Let’s say a customer comes in and purchases a gift for their friend. At checkout, you get their name and number for future discounts and such (or maybe your business has a membership option). Perhaps a month later, you send all customers who bought this product a discount offer on a different product.

“So, if someone bought a picture ornament, maybe your offer would be for a picture frame or other holiday-themed item,” Burke said. “Obviously, you can tailor this kind of message to your needs, but texts like this make people feel that you care, because the offer is both personal and relevant. And studies show that customers you build relationships with spend nearly 50 percent more with you.”

Adam Broetje, CEO of Odd Dog Media, notes it’s pretty simple to get set up and started, and the hardest part is in selecting the best software to help.

“If you use Square as your POS system, there is a number of SMS software that integrate via Zapier (which is free to use). In this case once a customer makes a purchase in your store, you can follow up with an SMS message,” he said. “Maybe it’s a coupon for a future purchase, a request to leave you a review or special event notifications.”

If you don’t use something like Square, you can simply go with a standalone SMS system like Slick Test. In this case, you would want customers to enter their phone number to receive some sort of a special offer so you have them in your system to message with in the future.

“SMS messaging is an additional opportunity to engage with a customer [through a format] that doesn’t get lost in the clutter as easily as email does,” Broetje said. “Oftentimes, you can get immediate responses from customers if they receive a text message at a time when they aren’t busy. In marketing terms, we call this ‘Interruption Marketing.’ We interrupt their experience to see our offer. Different customers also tend to engage with businesses in different ways, so you’re able to capture those that prefer text messages over other mediums.”

Avoid These Mistakes

The biggest mistakes businesses tend to make with SMS are being icy and robotic, being verbose, sending irrelevant messages and using “text speak.”

Over-sending messages is another big no-no. If you annoy your customers they will quickly un-subscribe. You should be sending no more than two to four text messages a month. Furthermore, prior to sending them text messages, ensure that your subscribers know how often you will be texting them.

“As a retailer, you need to be upfront and honest about how many messages they can expect to receive from your retail business,” Burke said. “Keep the messages valuable enough for them to want to keep receiving them.”

Along with the standard “Msg & Data rates may apply” you must also include the “Txt STOP to cancel” in your auto reply feature. It may also help if you include opt-out instructions in your outgoing text message campaigns from time to time as a sign of good faith to your customers.

Bob Clary, director of online engagement for Intellibright, a pay-per-sale marketing agency, says what is really important for retailers to understand about SMS marketing is that all the regulations that govern it are different (and, in many cases, stricter) than email. In fact, many businesses that are using SMS do so in violation of FCC guidelines.

“The most important of those guidelines is consent,” he said. “That is, businesses must have express consent before text messaging promotional messages to consumers.”

For example, if you collect phone numbers as part of a promotional giveaway, but don’t ask customers for their permission to receive text messages, sending them messages afterward is in violation of the regulation.

“Businesses who want to launch, and keep, a successful SMS marketing program need to build it with a keen eye to the rules of engagement,” Clary said.

The Final Word

People would rather text you than call someone else, and they’d rather be texted by you than called by someone else. When you create experiences people prefer, they talk about it. They bring their friends, and they spend more with you.

Be sure to educate your in-store employees so that they can encourage customers to sign up. An SMS system can’t help if you don’t have any customers signed up.

The more messages that are received will result in an increase in engagement, an increase in leads, and ultimately an increase in overall business.

“Remember, people text for 101 reasons every day,” Burke said. “Why can’t your business? You don’t have to stick with only promotional texts. You could have confirmation for items that come into the store. You could send happy birthday texts. It’s all well received.”

Keith Loria

Contributing Writer

Social Connections

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