SMS marketing might just be the best kept secret in eCommerce. With open rates of 90%+ and reply rates 8x those of email, text messages represent a huge opportunity for brands to build relationships with customers and increase retention.
Yet despite this, 65% of eCommerce stores do not have a formal SMS strategy in place. This is because effectively implementing a new brand-customer communication channel at scale is tough.
It requires dedicated resourcing and specialist in-house knowledge to pull off, and getting it wrong risks damaging customer relationships, and ultimately, revenue.
To help brands effectively build eCommerce retention via text messages, we’ve built this exclusive SMS marketing starter pack. We breakdown how brands can integrate texts with existing email flows, best practices for creating content for SMS, alongside downloadable text message templates and real world examples from top brands to get you started today.
How to integrate SMS and email flows
Despite the benefits of SMS, many eCommerce brands are understandably wary about adding an untested channel to their tech stack. The vast majority already use email to communicate with customers, and while SMS can offer huge value, email’s ubiquity is unlikely to be challenged anytime soon.
That means any store thinking of using text messages to build customer relationships and retention will have to integrate them with their existing email touchpoints.
To do this, merchants must build a dual-channel strategy that delivers customers the right messages, at the right time, on the most effective channel.
Understanding which messages are worth sending via SMS, and which should stay on email is key. When considering this, brands should ask themselves three questions:
1) What is the purpose of the message?
2) What type of content are you trying to share?
3) Does the customer need to reply, or take any immediate action?
If you’re sharing long form newsletter content, or detailed information like order receipts and password resets, email is still the way to go. It also remains better for when you want to reach your broader audience, some of whom might find text messages invasive if they are early in their relationship with you.
On the other hand, SMS can replace email for specific flows, like shorter shipping confirmations, abandoned cart reminders, reorder prompts and requests for qualitative feedback.
The channel is also more appropriate for nurturing a smaller VIP community targeted at highly engaged buyers who have opted in to receive texts from a brand. Similarly, managing subscription customers by allowing them to skip orders seamlessly via text rather than churning is a great use case for SMS.
In short, SMS often works better anytime you need to communicate a concise message that builds an intimate relationship with your customer, or when you want your audience to take action in a specific way.
Some messages, such as new product drops, sales offers or CX enquiries, can work well on both channels, depending on what your customers prefer. As a general rule, email is better for long, transactional comms, SMS wins for short, conversational messaging.
It’s worth noting that SMS messages are more expensive to send than emails, so you only want to use it for tactics that yield the most revenue impact.
Once you understand which channel you will use for which message, you can map out the touch points your customers will pass through in a way that leverages the strengths of each channel. A typical dual-channel consumer journey, in this case including an abandoned cart flow, order dispatch and feedback request, might look something like this:
The focus here is to define what you as a brand want to achieve at every step of the customer journey, and understanding how each SMS message and email contributes to that.
Get it right and you can offer consumers a game changing, omnichannel experience defined by rich, value-packed storytelling and convenient two-way brand-customer interaction. In turn, you’ll have the makings of an engaged and receptive audience that are highly invested in your brand and keep coming back to purchase time and again.
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How to create SMS marketing content
Once you’ve got your communications strategy mapped out, now you need to fill it with content in a way that builds high customer engagement and better retention. In practice, this can be tricky for a couple of reasons.
Firstly, building compelling content for an SMS channel is not simply a case of regurgitating existing email, social or website copy - instead it requires a specific style. Secondly, the limited experience some brands have with sending text messages means that many lack the in-house knowledge required to get it right.
There are five key considerations which eCommerce marketers should keep in mind when creating SMS content that delights customers and drives retention:
Pack it with punch 👊
We’ve all sent and read SMS messages to and from our friends - rarely do they exceed 250 characters. So why should texting your customers be any different?
Whatever the overall aim of your campaign, SMS is most impactful when it conveys high value information in a concise and cogent way.
Send a big chunk of text and you’ll lose the power of SMS for delivering bite-sized, immediately actionable content that engages audiences and drives revenue.
Get intimate 🧡
One of the key differentiators of SMS as a channel is that it facilitates the kind of intimate, two-way conversations between brands and customers that email and social media alternatives struggle to match.
Receiving a text message directly to your phone is a more personal experience than an email arriving in an inbox. When used in the right way, this authenticity can be leveraged to build lasting relationships with customers.
This can only work though, if you tailor your content to that purpose. Messages should be personalised to the recipient, and feel like they’re coming from a real human as opposed to a bot (even if they are bulk sent). Simple ways to achieve this are:
1) Incorporate your brand’s unique tone of voice into the copy
2) Heavily segment your audience to send only relevant information to specific cohorts and individuals
3) Properly resource the channel with customer support representatives who can jump in and reply to audience queries in a timely manner
Fill it with value 🎁
Whilst SMS ultimately exists to drive revenue, using it to send repeated, promotion-heavy spam is the quickest way to undermine its effectiveness for your business.
Text messages are most powerful when used to deliver value-filled content that’s relevant to specific segments of your audience.
Sending personalised reorder prompts when you know a customer needs a refill, sharing links to exclusive content or giving access to VIP product drops are all ways you can add tangible value to customers via SMS without resorting to hard selling.
Know the rules 🚨
In most countries the use of SMS by businesses is heavily regulated. From a content perspective, this often means signposting how customers can opt out of future communications within the message copy.
In some countries, information detailing opt out methods must be specifically communicated in every message you send. In others, it just has to be included in the first one. Check out our guides on regulatory compliance in the US, UK and EU to get clued up on the requirements for your region.
Make it visual 🎨
Punchily written, value-packed, personalised SMS content is a razor sharp retention tool. But cut-throat messaging decked out with great visuals is even better. Think about including images, gifs, videos and emojis in your messages to make them more compelling.
Such content rich messages are known as Multimedia Messaging Service (MMS), and are a great way to drive engagement with your brand via mobile.
It should be noted that MMS messages do cost more to send, and come with more potential delivery issues, so it makes sense to first consider where they can offer your brand the most ROI.
SMS marketing templates and examples for eCommerce retention ⭐️
Once you’ve understood which SMS marketing messages you’re going to send and the key principles for creating content for the channel, all that remains is to build some messages for yourself.
In the next section, we’re going to break down the key text messages used in eCommerce into downloadable templates and real world examples from top brands to help you build greater customer engagement, retention and revenue.
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Automated transactional messages are the bread and butter of any eCommerce store. Traditionally sent via email, they tend to communicate things like order confirmations and fulfillment details once a customer has purchased.
As such, they’re often the first direct messages a buyer will receive from a brand. Using SMS to send these messages is an opportunity for stores to delight with a seamless delivery experience and begin building a relationship with customers.
The key to building transactional SMS flows is to impart clear information about a customer’s order in your brand’s tone of voice, whilst dealing with any potential CX issues. As this is likely to be the first contact you’ve had with an individual via text, you must ensure the means of opt out are clearly detailed within the message.
A typical automated transactional flow might look something like this:
Sending transactional messages via SMS is a great way for brands to build retention by heading off any potential delivery issues before they result in angry customers. Check out this real example from a leading UK healthcare brand who were able to reassure and enthuse a customer by interacting with a question asked in response to a transactional SMS flow:
Automated marketing messages are used to drive engagement and revenue from those who have opted into a brand’s SMS list. They are typically sent to customers who have already entered into a transactional relationship with a store, and hold two key functions:
1) To collect customer insight on a brand’s products and CX via feedback requests
2) To move buyers from first to second orders and beyond via replenishment and cross sell flows
These messages are aimed at building intimacy and value for your audience to drive LTV. They should be colloquial, personalised and encourage a direct response or action from the recipient, without coming across as spammy.
When collecting customer insight, check in with buyers after they’ve purchased to better understand how your products are being used. This is also a great opportunity to uncover and solve any CX issues that users might be having.
With replenishment or cross sell plays, relevance is everything. Sending messages at custom time frames when you know a particular group of customers might be running out of a certain product, or interested in trying another, can really boost LTV.
Here’s how some typical automated marketing messages might look:
Automating such messages are of course a great way to build retention via SMS. However, using pre-planned bot flows to start an interaction that a human support rep can then add further value to, boosts the customer experience even further.
Take a look at this example from a top US food brand who build loyalty and retention by using automated marketing messages to prompt customer responses, which they then engage with one-to-one.
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Abandoned cart recovery
Abandoned carts are rife within eCommerce - on average 69% of checkouts are left incomplete online. Recovering as many as possible at scale is one of the quickest ways to increase revenue from your store.
This is tough to do using email alone - open rates are typically low and user response times remain high. However, adding the high engagement and compelling immediacy of SMS messages to your existing abandoned cart flows can significantly increase conversion.
When sending an abandoned cart recovery message via text you want to use language and content which will effectively move customers towards a purchase. Being colloquial and a little off beat with your messaging is often a great way to grab attention here, as is encouraging FOMO with a time sensitive offer.
It’s also important for brands to make it seamless for customers to continue their purchase. Sending a pre-populated link back to where they left checkout, or dealing with the order in channel is a must.
Here’s how an abandoned cart recovery flow sent via SMS might look:
When it comes to eCommerce retention, an effective subscription model is the holy grail. By 2023, 75% of online stores will sell products on a subscription basis, but customer dissatisfaction with inflexible payment models and high churn remain challenges.
Using SMS to communicate recurring charges to customers is a strong way for brands to mitigate these problems. The intimate, two-way brand-customer conversations facilitated by the channel can solve CX issues and build loyalty over the long-term. Similarly, flexible order modification and skipping functionality tackles the problem of product overload and subsequent churn.
Subscription-focused text messages to customers should be clear in the information they convey, and enable the recipient to make changes to their payment plan seamlessly in-channel.
Check out how a typical flow might look:
SMS flows can enable quality touchpoints with subscribers, giving brands the opportunity to build loyalty through amazing CX. Take a look at how a top pet food brand in Asia is seamlessly managing order skip requests and tacking churn by chatting one-to-one with customers via text:
Slash subscription churn today. Chat to us 👇
Group campaigns are one-time messages sent to large groups of customers to inform them of a specific update to an eCommerce store. This might be a new or limited edition product release, a sale or promotion, a product returning to stock, as well as other company news and events.
The aim of these campaigns is often to instigate a specific action from the audience, making them suited to a high engagement channel like SMS.
Key to driving high conversion rates for group campaigns is ensuring customers are receiving information about the right products at the right time. You can do this by segmenting audience cohorts and using historical data to send messages at optimum times. A compelling offer that delivers value to the customer, as well as strong, persuasive copy within the text message are also important.
Brands should ensure that it’s as frictionless as possible for customers to carry out the desired action of each campaign to maximise revenue. Remember, if you’re contacting a customer via SMS for the first time, always include opt out methods as part of your text.
Below are some group message templates you can use in your own marketing:
The more specific you can get with your segmentation of group messages the better. Check out how this leading US food brand used geotargeting to reach customers within a specific location to promote an in-person offer celebrating a cultural event.
Key takeaways 🎁
Build a dual-channel strategy
Understanding which messages are suitable for text, and which are better left on email is fundamental to any SMS-based retention play. SMS is great for short, conversational messaging which compels a specific set of customers to take action. Email, on the other hand, is better for sending longer, information-heavy comms to your broader audience.
Create content specifically with SMS in mind
SMS is its own format with particular idiosyncrasies when it comes to content creation. As a channel it is easy to saturate, meaning messages must deliver compelling value in 50-100 words max. Personalisation at scale, as well as directing customers to clear actions in channel are also key to driving the best results.
Be ready to chat one-to-one
The power of SMS as a two-way conversation channel for building customer engagement and retention cannot be understated. Text offers customers greater convenience when purchasing, faster solutions to CX problems and a chance to really feel part of a brand. These benefits can only be realised, however, if stores are prepared to sufficiently resource their SMS channel with human support reps, who can jump into automated flows to have real conversations with customers at any time.
NB. For the purposes of this starter pack, all brand and customer information has been anonymised to protect the identity of those involved.