SMS vs email: The ultimate guide

SMS marketing is new to the eCommerce stack but it’s not going to replace email any time soon. Brands who master the relative strengths of both channels can offer a rich, personalised and unique CX for consumers.

Deb Mukherjee
eCommerce writer

As an eCommerce marketer, your job is to get maximum ROI from every campaign you run. However, the endless list of potential channels out there means it’s easy to get confused about which to focus on.

What is certain though, is that email and SMS marketing are here to stay. Email, as you know it, has been the long-standing king when it comes to eCommerce marketing. 

It delivers and every time someone shrieks “email is dead”, you get a dozen email marketers pulling out their Klaviyo stats. 

As for SMS, it’s still considered the new kid on the block but it’s fast gaining traction, and top brands like Misfits, Dash Drinks, and Skout Organic are reaping its benefits. With its insanely high open rates and stellar engagement, SMS is here to stay. 

But the question remains: Which is better – email or SMS for your store’s marketing? The answer, as cliched as it sounds, is “it depends”. Yes, it depends on what your goals are, what KPIs are you tracking, and how you intend to leverage both channels. 

The differences between SMS marketing vs email marketing

Email remains the #1 channel for 73% of marketers. Email communications are generally long-form, take time to read, and are great for long-form storytelling where you can use text, images, GIFs, and video to captivate the audience. 

SMS, on the other hand, is shorter form and instant – whenever you get an alert on your phone, you pick it up and check the text. This ensures sky-high open and click through rates. 

Plus, SMS is conversational by default. Even when you send thousands of messages at once, you can still personalize every text. Your customer’s are also more attuned to replying via text, which is not typical with mass email campaigns. 

However, SMS is limited to a small number of characters and mostly text (with an occasional image). Email, on the other hand, doesn’t have any restrictions whatsoever. 

But owing to our 8-secs attention span, SMS still trumps email when it comes to action-oriented messaging, ie. when you want your customer to do something once they’ve read it - like recover an abandoned cart, make a reorder or give product feedback.

Email though, is a great medium for anything that needs a little more explanation - product education, weekly newsletter content, illustrating the benefits of your subscription service, for example. 

To sum it up which type of message is best suited to which channel, here’s a graph detailing when to leverage email and SMS for your store's marketing.


Security and privacy for SMS vs email marketing 

For all the benefits of both email and SMS, as a business, you can’t just go pinging out messages to consumers left, right, and center. The keyword here is consent. To send email or SMS to your customers, you must have their expressed permission.

When it comes to email regulations, GDPR in the UK and EU and CAN-SPAM in the US both apply. GDPR requires that brands collect affirmative consent that is “freely given, specific, informed, and unambiguous” to be compliant. 

CAN-SPAM is similar, requiring marketers not to be deceptive when sending commercial/promotional emails. It also requires brands to provide customers with an easy way to opt-out and act on those requests within ten days. 

The GDPR regulation also covers SMS, whilst in the US, text message marketing is governed by TCPA. In the UK and EU, GDPR dictates that you must have explicit, informed consent from customers before you can contact them. The requirements are similar when it comes to the TCPA in the US

And as for collecting emails and SMS while being compliant, a brand can collect this consent in many compliant ways:

  • A tick box during your checkout process
  • A pop-up or banner on your website 
  • Customers can message you directly to opt-in

Check out our guide to collecting numbers for SMS marketing, for more on complaint ways of building your audience.

Open rates for SMS vs email marketing

Even with the iOS debacle, the email open rate is an important metric for eCommerce marketers to gauge the efficacy of an email campaign. Because let’s be honest, if your customers aren't even opening your emails, they’re rendered useless.  

According to MailChimp, the average open rate across industries stands at 21.33% and according to Hubspot, it’s 20.94%. So let’s assume for the sake of argument, that the average open rate for email is 20%. 

23% of all email opens happen after the first hour of delivery. And post 24 hours, an email's chance of being opened drops to <1% which is pretty low. 

Against this, the numbers for SMS are impressive. Estimates vary, but most put the typical open rate for SMS marketing at around 90%+. That means if you send a text to a customer, they’re almost guaranteed to see it and see it quickly - 58.7% of people read newly arrived text messages within five minutes. 

Engagement levels for SMS vs email marketing

Open rates are important, but ultimately they don’t mean much if you aren’t driving your desired action off the back of it. That’s where the importance of engagement comes in - normally measured by click through, reply and conversion rates. 

In all three of these areas, SMS tends to come out on top, as the following table shows: 

Stats sourced from Esendex & Kenect. *Conversion rate based on desired action taken eg. purchase or form completion. 

The data clearly suggests that whilst email is good for sharing detailed amounts of information, messages aimed at driving fast customer action should be sent via SMS. 

Benefits of using email and SMS marketing together

It’s clear that both email and SMS marketing are here to stay. Both channels have their benefits, which is why they can be really successful when used together. Take a look at this typical customer journey that combines the strengths of both channels:

This flow maximises the immediacy and engagement rates of SMS, with the long form benefits of email. A customer receives abandoned cart messages on both channels, then an order dispatch confirmation via SMS. 

Educational product usage content is sent via email for the buyer to digest, before the customer receives a final text requesting post purchase feedback - thus leveraging high SMS reply rates. 

The benefit of this journey is it offers multiple quality touch points to the customer, on a channel that is convenient and tailored to the content of the message. Such an integrated approach hugely improves the experience for the buyer, making it more likely they will return to purchase in future. 

How to create a combined email and SMS marketing campaign

Blueprint makes it really simple for eCommerce brands who use Klaviyo to build sophisticated multi-channel marketing campaigns across email and SMS. 

You can import your Klaviyo subscribers into Blueprint and share Blueprint data with Klaviyo, so you can create a cohesive communication strategy. This means your customers only receive the correct messages in the correct channel. Here’s how to set up the integration.

1) Set up a Blueprint account

Starting an account with Blueprint is super easy. We connect to your Shopify store in 2-mins, with a no-code set up. To get started, book a demo today. For more on how to set up your Blueprint account, read the guide

2) Enable your Klaviyo account 

Configure your Klaviyo API key codes, then head to the Integrations Hub in your Blueprint dashboard and select the Klaviyo option. Test and activate the connection to switch on your integration. For more information, read the guide.

3) Integrate your Klaviyo subscribers 

There are two methods of importing Klaviyo subscribers into your dashboard. The first method (available to all merchants) is to draw numbers directly from any 'lists' created in Klaviyo. The second option, (available to US merchants only), draws into the dashboard any phone numbers added via popups or landing pages using SMS consent. Take a look at our step by step video to importing numbers.

Email and SMS marketing campaign use cases 

Now you’ve got your account set up, let’s look at some examples of joint use cases. Email marketing is one such medium where brands can sort of get away with more frequent sends – we’re all accustomed to receiving multiple emails from our favorite brands. 

But shoppers still consider SMS a personal medium where brands should hit pause on too much promo content. 

So, what’s the strategy here?

To win in eCommerce marketing, you need to leverage both SMS and email. Here are a number of use cases where you can combine the two:

1) Recover abandoned carts

When someone abandons their cart, drop them an email after an hour in the hopes of getting a sale. No purchase still? Drop them an SMS after 24 hours with an exclusive discount.

This strategy works because it dramatically increases the chances that your customer will complete the purchase all the while playing into the phenomenon that the customer is busy but always keeps their phone handy. 

2) Grow your subscriber list

Want to grow your SMS subscriber list? Use email. 

Here’s how: Whenever someone signs up to your email newsletter, drop them a welcome email asking them to subscribe to SMS. The catch? They also receive a flat 20% off on their next purchase. 

The reverse is also true. When someone subscribes to your SMS, drop them a text asking them to share their email and get 20% off on their next order. 

This way, you get to grow both the subscriber lists seamlessly. 

3) Upgrade your post-purchase experience with transactional email & SMS

The post-purchase journey launches with an order confirmation message. You should always use an email because this contains multiple pieces of information like product name/quantity, shipping rate, etc. 

Here’s an example from Schoolyard Snacks:

And after a few other messages, comes the delivery confirmation. This is time-sensitive and the customer wants to know immediately, especially if the order is a gift. This is where SMS shines as we previously read, most folks read SMS within 5 minutes after receiving it. 

For more information on the best SMS marketing tools, and how to start an SMS campaign from scratch, read our guides. 

SMS and email: What's next?

While email is great for delivering educational, information, and engaging content pieces that folks love reading (and saving them occasionally), SMS is known for its instantaneousness and is great for sending important and time-sensitive messages directly to the shoppers’ mobile phones. 

Blueprint is the SMS & WhatsApp platform powering CX and retention for eCommerce brands.

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Are you all CAC and no win back?

Start building sticky customers today with:

Customer feedback

Flexible subscription management

Intelligent replenishments & cross-sells

"The results have been staggering. Blueprint has massively increased our LTV."
Donald Mendenhall
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