When SMS Makes Sense for Retailers

Jan 05, 2022
Jeff Haws

Virtually everyone today uses SMS in their day-to-day lives. But, among some retail brands, it’s still struggled to gain a foothold as a marketing channel. That’s understandable. But why?

Of course marketers are wary of feeling too invasive to their customers and potentially alienating them when it can be so tough to get a customer back. And with SMS being a relatively new channel for marketing, it can be tough for some marketers to wrap their heads around how to use it most effectively.

But with a little forethought and strategy, SMS can be an extremely useful channel for retail marketers to surprise and delight their customers with personalized, useful messaging campaigns. So, let’s look at a few instances where it makes perfect sense to incorporate SMS into your marketing strategy.

Ensure you reach them now

When timing is of the essence, nothing accomplishes that in the way SMS does. The open rate for SMS messages is, according to many sources, close to an absurd 98%. Assuming they’ve opted into your SMS marketing — they have, haven’t they? — chances are your message is going to get seen. And that’s half the battle.

In some cases, like with time-sensitive sales or important alerts, the customer seeing the message quickly is critical to its success. Even if they do see and open your email, it could not be for hours. Only about 23% of all email opens occur within the first hour after delivery, so you can’t count on immediacy. With SMS, you have a much better chance.

Personalized product alerts

When a loyal customer sets up an alert for a product that’s out of stock or on back order, how do you let them know when it’s back? This is a chance to have an exciting and personally relevant interaction with them. That’s not an opportunity you want to risk getting buried in their inbox, so SMS is a great medium for reaching out.

Include their first name and a clear description of the product. Show excitement! This is a situation where a customer has given you a very clear buying signal, and you want to get them back in that mood. Using a picture of the product can give them a reminder of why they wanted it, and be sure to put in a link to your mobile site or app so they can click directly through to make the purchase.

Abandoned carts

Once again, when timeliness is key, SMS is often your best bet. And that’s rarely more important than with abandoned cart campaigns. Sure, the right email can get the job done as well. But if you have the opportunity to get into their texts, all the better. That might be just the prompt they need to head back to your site and complete the purchase.

An image of the product is also a good bet here, to jog their memory of what they left behind earlier in the day. Depending on the type of product, you might even include a link to a blog post educating them further about why the product is so great in case they had second thoughts. Or tell them they can reply to the text if they had any trouble with the checkout process.

No more messing with Facebook Messenger

And this goes for any other social media direct messaging program. Under the right circumstances, they can be a powerful tool for retail marketers to connect directly with their customers on familiar ground. They’re not for everybody, but many retail brands find that’s where many of their customers are.

It’s worth remembering, though, that any social media site isn’t your sandbox. Facebook can — and often does — change the rules and other parameters fairly often when it comes to how marketers can use their messaging tool. Put too many eggs in someone else’s basket, and you risk them taking it away from you. SMS is based upon your first-party data, and building your marketing around that is always a safer long-term bet than crossing your fingers with social.

Customer service

If you’re an enterprise retailer, two things are inevitable: 1) customers are going to need your help with a purchase at some point; 2) none of them wants to wait to talk to someone on the phone. That’s one area where SMS can provide a great middle ground between email and customer service call banks.

Let customers know if they can reply directly to your SMS messages if they need help with anything, and it could spark a conversation that will lead to greater customer satisfaction and loyalty. If they know you’re listening whenever they have a problem and will respond promptly in a way that’s not invasive to their lives, they’ll be more confident in coming back to you for their future purchases.


If your retail brand hasn’t fully embraced SMS as a full-fledged part of your marketing ecosystem, it’s time to start thinking about how to smartly incorporate it, even if it’s just in small ways at first. These are some good places to start when it comes to reaching your customers with highly relevant, timely SMS messages that will give them more ways to connect with your brand digitally.

About the Author

Jeff Haws

As MessageGears’ Senior Marketing Manager, Jeff is focused on producing engaging and thoughtful content that resonates with enterprise marketers, helping them to better understand how MessageGears makes their jobs easier. He’s passionate about understanding the way data impacts messaging, and he’s also hopelessly obsessed with baseball.