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SMS for e-commerce: The definitive guide

Business SMS Marketing Guide for e-commerce companies
Written By Louise
On Jan, 20 2020
6 minute read

How often do you send or receive an SMS? We’re willing to guess, quite often. In fact, text messaging is the most used data service in the world, with approximately 5 billion people using SMS regularly. The vast majority of the world’s population.

Even more impressive is the average open rate of SMS marketing campaigns. Customers using the Carts Guru SMS marketing service, for example, have an average open rate of 98% and a 15% click-through rate. When compared to the 15-25% average open rate and 2.5% click-through rate for commercial email, you can see that text messaging is a powerful marketing tool.

So, how do you run a business SMS marketing campaign for your e-commerce store? This article will provide you with a step-by-step guide to SMS marketing for e-commerce, from the types of codes available to the rules of an SMS marketing campaign. We’ll answer your questions and share our expertise to help you use SMS marketing to drive revenue and grow your business.

Let’s get started!

First of all, what exactly is SMS marketing for e-commerce?

SMS (short message service) marketing is a way for e-commerce companies to directly contact customers through their mobile phones with personalized promotional messages and offers. Have a quick look through your message inbox right now, we’re sure you’ll see a few messages in there from brands and companies.

Customers can also communicate with brands, sign up for offers, and take part in competitions using business SMS numbers. Perhaps surprisingly, text message marketing has a 45% response rate. This is in part due to how personal it feels - and also demonstrates the ease and convenience of SMS for your customers.

Companies can use SMS business marketing services in a number of ways; there are SMS long codes, SMS short codes, vanity short codes, and toll-free numbers - and it’s good to know the differences between them.

SMS Types

SMS long codes

Long codes look like regular phone numbers, consisting of 10-digits. They allow you to keep the same number across all channels. This makes them especially useful for more personal conversations. Customer service departments, for example, might prefer to use a long code so the clients feel they are speaking to another person, rather than a faceless corporation.

But there are some distinct disadvantages to using SMS long codes in marketing campaigns:

  • You can’t send more than one message per second with long codes, which is a problem when it comes to messaging a large list of customers.
  • In the US, sending marketing materials via long code numbers is not allowed by carriers. This means your message can’t read as marketing material, and if a carrier is even remotely suspicious they will block your message.
  • Long codes don’t allow you to send images or multimedia in your messages.
  • They can be hard to remember and people can easily make mistakes when texting you for the first time.
  • On occasion, long codes might feel less “professional” to a client and therefore not match your brand image.

SMS short codes

SMS short codes are five or six-digit numbers that hold a number of advantages over long codes. With short codes you can:

  • Send marketing messages without any constraints or worries from your carriers.
  • Message large numbers of people at once, which is ideal when, for example, rolling out holiday marketing campaigns.
  • Send images and multimedia to make your message stand out.
  • Drive traffic to your e-commerce store through competition campaigns (text to win, text to vote, etc.).
  • Use your short code number to collect charitable donations for good causes.

What’s more, there are two kinds of short codes you can go for: shared short codes and dedicated short codes. Shared short codes are more economical; instead of having an exclusive number, you split it with other businesses. Customers interact with your brand by texting keywords that you have selected to your number. Of course, each company must have its own unique keywords.

Dedicated short codes are only used by one company. This makes them more expensive, as you might imagine. You also have the option to use a “vanity” short code - that is a number that is very easy to remember or spells out something on the dial pad.

Toll-free numbers

A toll-free SMS number is one that customers can use to contact a business without incurring network charges. They can be useful for a number of reasons:

  • In customer service situations, customers are able to communicate with your company, without worrying about costs. In theory, this builds a better relationship with your team.
  • Clients can use them for order tracking in e-commerce, without paying a fee.
  • With a send rate of 30 messages per second, they can be used when sending mass communications.
  • Clients can easily seek important information (e.g. flight delays).

Of course, there are a number of disadvantages to using toll-free numbers. For one, the company incurs the expense of a toll-free number. Also, as these numbers are free to text, you can invite spammers and pranks. This not only wastes time but costs a lot of money!

Is business SMS marketing effective?

As we’ve already noted, SMS marketing has a 98% open rate, a 15% click-through rate and a 45% response rate. Those are eye-popping figures for just about any marketer. And it gets better - SMS marketing is currently an underused medium. 65% of brands still don’t have a strategy in place for mass SMS messaging, according to Disruptive Advertising.

We see this as a ripe opportunity for e-commerce brands that want to stand out from the crowd and operate in an underused - yet ubiquitous - space.

SMS types

Are there any rules to follow when launching an SMS marketing campaign?

There certainly are. Make sure you’re careful about what you send and who you send it to. If you’re based in the U.S., you should be familiar with the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) and CAN-SPAM, which govern the use of SMS marketing.

In Europe, companies must comply with the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) rules on using SMS marketing. Customers must opt-in to your messages and you can only send them information relating to what they’ve given you permission for. So, if you want to build a database of clients, your messages need to be of value to your customers, include special offers, and only contain highly personalized information.

On top of this, you need to ensure that you are respectful of your clients’ peace and quiet. SMS messages are powerful things. Unlike email, which sits quietly in your client’s inbox, a text message announces itself loudly, no matter the time of day or night.

For that reason, it’s not a good idea to send messages at 3 am, during common mealtimes, or at busy times of day (like the morning commute to work). That way you can avoid annoying your subscribers in already overloaded moments.

How can I implement SMS marketing in my e-commerce store?

If you want to start your own SMS marketing campaigns, we suggest using a short code for convenience and flexibility. However, arranging this on your own is a fairly lengthy process.

First, you’ll need to lease a short code or long code from your current provider. Vanity short codes will set you back $1000/month on average, regular short codes around $500/month - though fees will, of course, vary depending on carrier, country, and region.

Next, you’ll need to register your short code so that the wireless carriers know your purpose. This is often done through a third-party provider to guarantee a successful application.

Finally, you need to set up your short code. Before you can actively launch SMS campaigns and contact your customers, you’ll need to host it on an SMS aggregator - a service that actually distributes your messages. This will have its own approval process, which - once completed - will allow you to operate your new number.

Alternatively, your company can avoid the hassle and time it takes to set up a short code and use a third-party business SMS platform.

For more on text message marketing, check out this article.

Carts Guru SMS marketing services

Our business SMS service is fully integrated with our multi-channel marketing automation platform. The set up is quick and easy and it will allow you to effectively manage your SMS marketing for your e-commerce store, track open rates and analyze campaign performance.

Using our platform, you’ll also be able to put your SMS marketing campaign in context and see how it compares to your email campaigns and Facebook Messenger campaigns. By measuring and tracking your results, you're able to focus on the marketing channel that works best for you and really give your ROI a boost.

Happy texting!

Are you considering rolling out an SMS marketing campaign? Let us know your goals in the comments!

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