SMS - the eCommerce Marketers' 'Secret' Weapon

Aran Reeks
By Aran Reeks
7 May 2014

In eCommerce we are always looking at how new technologies can help create online sales. But we’re also careful never to overlook how technical features that have been around for a while can help online businesses sell more products. SMS text messaging is a case in point – the familiarity and ‘old-tech’ image can lead an eCommerce agency to overlook its potential. In fact it can be a valuable tool for generating additional sales and for building relationships with your customers.

Here are some statistics that might change the way you look at SMS. According to Ofcom 97.5% of text messages get opened within 5 seconds. And in 2011 the Mobile Data Association found that the average response rate for SMS was 28%, compared to 5% for email and 2.8% for direct mail. Response rates for display ads recently fell to 0.1%.5_sec

When you think that people tend to have their mobile within reach for the majority of the day and, on average, look at them over 100 times a day, perhaps these statistics are not surprising. There are plenty of other statistics to highlight the potential of SMS in the 2012 Great British Mobile Marketing Report produced by Textlocal and MobileMarketing which you can download HERE.

Of course these statistics don’t mean that you should abandon email marketing. It’s still important to do it and to do it well as I explained in this recent article. But if you’re not also using SMS in a systematic way as part of your marketing you are probably missing a big opportunity. Here are a few ideas of where you could perhaps make use of SMS in your own business.

After sales support

For many people getting updates on the delivery status of their order by text is something they welcome. If they have an old-style mobile rather than a smartphone it means they can get updates wherever they are without having to access an email account on a PC. And if they do have a smartphone an SMS message is likely to get more attention than yet another email among dozens of others in the Inbox.

In spite of all the positives, the Great British Mobile Marketing Survey found that only a third of UK businesses use SMS regularly to communicate with their customers. That sounds like a great opportunity for you to differentiate your business from the competition.

SMS can also be a good way to elicit feedback on products people have bought and on your service. There’s something more personal about asking for feedback on a mobile and, again, it’s easy for your customers to respond. SMS is also a great way of conducting short surveys to get a snapshot of your customers’ views and opinions.


Given the impressive statistics on open and response rates, it seems illogical not to use SMS for sales promotions. If you want to send a discount code or coupon to customers to entice them back to your online shop you could send it in an email - or you could more than double the chances of it being noticed by sending it in an SMS. And for smartphone users you can add a bit more value by embedding a landing page URL into the message so they can get straight to your site and put the discount code to use. 

You might be tempted to push out an SMS message every time update your product offers; Dont! This will just annoy people. Structure your campaigns so that only the most relevant offers are sent out. Dominos Pizza send me an SMS maybe once a month (normally around payday) when they know I’m most likely to purchase with a very enticing offer.

Whilst I expect Dominos SMS campaigns are very effective (they certainly work on me too often for my diet’s liking!), they could still be improved by personalising them around my most recent purchase. A good example of this could be something like:


Naturally, you’ll need a website optimised for mobile to convert as much of the traffic as possible.

If you have a physical shop the mobile phone numbers you collect through eCommerce can be a good way to publicise a sale and generate footfall. This is clearly more cost-effective when you can target the mobiles of customers living within a given radius of your shop (e.g. by postcode) and you should have all the data you need to make this possible. You can pitch this as an exclusive offer to reward loyal customers, for example.

You can also use SMS for reminders if, for example, you have an appointment based business or for seasonally related products.


From our experience as eCommerce developers, CROs & consumers here are our top tips for creating a superior SMS campaign that’ll give you the best ROI:

  • There needs to be a positive opt-in to receiving marketing messages. You probably already ask for a mobile number so you can contact somebody if there’s a problem with the delivery; you should never use this for SMS marketing unless you have specific permission from your customer no matter how tempting it could be.
  • Offer an incentive for people to sign up for your SMS service - they won’t do it unless there’s a clear benefit. A good example of this could be an exclusive discount code or voucher or perhaps an opt-in notification for when a specific item/range comes back into stock.
  • Always provide an easy way for customers to opt-out of your SMS marketing. Ofcom can take a dim view of any abuses not to mention you won’t want to annoy your customers in the first place.
  • Don’t overdo the frequency of your messages – this is likely to annoy people. One survey in the US found that people who received mobile coupons via SMS would welcome a maximum of 2 SMS messages per month. That seems like plenty for most businesses.
  • Use a reputable SMS gateway service for sending the messages via.
  • In case a customer chooses to reply to the SMS message, make sure you’re able to receive these and that you act on the replies. They could be order requests after all, you never know.

In spite of all the positives, the Great British Mobile Marketing Survey found that only a third of UK businesses use SMS regularly to communicate with their customers. That sounds like a great opportunity for you to differentiate your business from the competition.

Let us know your views on on how SMS messaging plays a part in eCommerce solutions in the comments below. Have you used it in your business and if so how did your campaigns go? If not, whats holding you back from starting your first campaign?