In my opinion: SMS In retail is here to stay, says customer contact specialist VoiceSage

VoiceSage’s Steve Robertson on why reports of the death of texting don’t really stack up

Robertson: SMS is stayer in retail

Robertson: SMS has staying power in retail

For some, the mobile world’s debate about how the Rich Communications Services (RCS) protocol will provide experiences beyond voice and SMS spells the imminent end of text, an ‘outdated’ technology.

While there is good reason to be excited about RCS, the fact of the matter is there’s no reason for any serious business communicator to warrant taking SMS out of their marketing plans. In fact, quite the opposite – as SMS has a huge role to play in not just enhancing the shoppers’ experience, but as a key part in the on-ramp to a full omni-channel experience.

Let’s take delivery, increasingly something online and offline retailers are engaging in. It’s absolutely an area where getting your multi-channel communication ducks all lined up couldn’t be more important. Customers are making multiple orders and arrangements online, from clothes to books to homeware to food, from Amazon to Argos, Toys’R’Us to Zara to Ocado and so on.

That’s lots of orders and a lot of waiting in, anxiously clicking on ‘Delivery Status,’ with customers worrying that the second they step outside to buy a bottle of milk they’ll come back to the delivery slip on the door mat – and face yet more delay.

Retailers need to do better to make all this a lot smoother and less stressful by keeping us all better informed. And SMS is an ideal way to do this. One of our customers, for example, Home Retail Group, the group behind brands like Homebase and Habitat is a great case of doing just that. This retail giant employs up-to-date, personalised, text status updates on deliveries, and reports increased customer satisfaction plus reduced in-bound contact centre traffic from customers wondering where their delivery is.

Why is SMS is the ideal way to do this? Because even after all these years, it still offers brands amazing simplicity and reach, making it a compelling, cost-effective medium and one unlikely to be superseded for some time. If your message can be communicated in text and emojis, you can send it via SMS, effectively, which explains why, in particular for younger people, text is more popular now than at its supposed peak in the mid-1990s.

And not just for digital natives either. Texting is the most popular form of communication for adults under 50, while 97% of Americans text at least once a day. 8.3 trillion text messages were sent in 2015 alone. In consequence, retailers shouldn’t ignore text any time soon. Not only are texts easy to consume, they have an urgency and trust factor attached to them that makes them far more widely consumed than emails, say.

For example, it’s been found that 76% of respondents are likely to read a text sooner than an email; email list management leader MailChimp confirms that, on average, only 20% of emails ever get opened compared to 99% of texts – of which 90% get read within the first three minutes of their receipt.

SMS is here to stay

And let’s not forget the retail possibilities of using a smartphone and making text-based offers and suggestions. If I’m in a shop and searching for something, is the retailer helping me via my mobile phone to find that item? Even better, if I am looking for something, does the retailer have an idea about the next thing I am looking for, or something else I might like – for example, when I pick up my new lawnmower, should I also be directed to the right pesticides and so on?

The truth is text is a fantastically important, central fact of all our communications lives, and any retail brand ignoring its relevance is making a mistake. Not only is text wildly popular and something that gets our attention over other media, it’s hugely important in terms of promoting customer service.

And as interactions can be automated and two-way conversations initiated, while visual elements can be added so that customers can click a hyperlink and get presented with an easy-to-use tool for moving a delivery slot, or make an instant payment, SMS seems to be getting ever more useful.

All this functionality makes SMS the truly disruptive technology – not RCS, at least not yet and maybe not for some time. The way ahead for the canny retailer has to be to keep SMS at the heart of all strategy for some time to come, as text/SMS offers productivity and seamless customer handling that makes complete business sense, and stops us being distracted by any claims from the future we don’t need to worry about yet.

The author is marketing and sales director at VoiceSage, a leader in customer contact technology

(A Retail Times’ sponsored article)