Running an ecommerce business is hectic at the slowest of days. There is the incessant work on the website, handling inventory and shipping, the constant struggle to attract more visitors to the website, the never-absolutely-satisfactory conversion rates, the pesky competitors and at least twenty other things to run through over the course of a single day.
Once the holidays start appearing on the horizon, however, the wild ride that is running an ecommerce business turns into a Mad Max-type carnage – everything is ramped up by a factor of at least 10.
In such a hostile atmosphere, every bit helps. Ecommerce website owners bring out their A-game, old data is being pulled up, promotions are considered and then reconsidered, everyone is checking out the latest Shopify’s guide on how to prepare for Cyber Monday and so on.
The smartest of ecommerce business owners also know that a weapon that definitely deserves to be a part of their arsenal is SMS marketing.
Ecommerce business owners care about numbers over pretty much everything else. It is a very straightforward retail ecosystem where numbers are easily tracked and where most of the actions taken depend on numbers.
The first set of numbers paint the big picture, and a very clear one at that. In 2016, ecommerce sales amounted to over $63 billion during the holiday season. And that’s just on desktop. That same year, U.S. shoppers alone spent over $17 billion on their mobile devices. Considering that ecommerce holiday sales have been growing at a steady 10% annually (at the least), this year, the numbers will be even more staggering.
While the share of mcommerce in overall online shopping is lower during the holidays than the rest of the year, the fact is that more and more people are doing it.
When we are talking SMS marketing for ecommerce, there are a few numbers that you have to keep in mind. For example, there is the open rate of 98% for SMS messages. When compared to the open rate of 20% that email boasts, it becomes obvious which has more potential to be seen. Moreover, while email has a response rate of 6%, the response rate of SMS messages stands at around 45%. There have also been a number of studies that have shown that text messages as part of the sales and customer service processes can make a huge difference when it comes to end results.
In short, SMS marketing has numbers on its side.
In order to do proper SMS marketing for your ecommerce store, you need to have a plan. What is more, this plan has to be formulated long before the holidays approach.
For one, you need to build your opt-in list of customers and potential customers. There is a whole science behind this and it would take far too much time and space to explain building of opt-in lists here. The important thing to remember is that you have to build it yourself and that just texting numbers at random is illegal. Also, the sooner you start, the bigger your list will be once the holidays arrive.
As the holidays start approaching, you will want to do some segmentation so as to target the right potential customers with the right messages. For example, let’s say you run a sports equipment ecommerce store and you sell equipment for hockey, tennis and a dozen more sports. Depending on their past purchases and searches, you will target the right people with the right promotions.
You won’t, for instance, send messages promoting holiday deals on tennis rackets to someone who only bought hockey equipment in the past.
It may take a while to do proper analytics of past data, but it will be more than worth it.
A good idea would also be to find out which kinds of promotions will be most alluring to your holiday customers. Once again, you can take a look at your past data and see what kinds of promotions performed best with what types of customers. You could also take a look at some major studies on ecommerce incentives. Percentage discounts, buy one get one free offers, free gifts and such incentives are classics for a reason.
When deciding on promotions and perks, you will also want to make sure they make sense for your business, when all is said and done. Sometimes a promotion cuts too much into your margins and ends up hurting your revenue.
You might also want to check your customer journeys and find out what your weak points are. Perhaps people aren’t moving past your home page? Perhaps they leave your product pages? Perhaps they abandon their carts just as they are supposed to make the final purchase? You will want to know what hurts your sales so that your SMS marketing can help bolster those weak points.
Remember, ecommerce SMS marketing is more than just shooting out texts about 50%-off deals.
About a month or two before the holidays, you will want to start actually sending out texts and letting your customers know about the upcoming deals. By now, you will have an idea of what you will be sending, when and to whom.
You can set up automated SMS campaigns months in advance, reminding your customers that they can get some great deals at your store come holidays. It is important to remember that you should never overdo SMS marketing as people do not really wish to receive ten texts a day. Once or twice a month will be more than enough, leading up to holidays.
Once the holidays are near, you can send out promotions that will be time-limited, inspiring your customers to make immediate purchases or miss out on great discounts and other perks. You might even set up campaigns that will be something of a countdown to the biggest holiday deals on your website (people might be more tolerant to promotions around holidays).
One of the best ways to boost the sales is to include links to individual products or product categories in the very texts. This will require some smart targeting or perhaps analyzing previous cart abandonments, but it can be very efficient when we are talking conversion rates. Of course, how personalized you will go will also depend on how big your ecommerce website is and whether you can realistically spend that much time on individual customers.
One thing you should keep in mind is the daily timing of your texts. While people will generally open a text no matter when it arrives, they are more likely to make holiday purchases at certain times of the day. For example, you can target parts of the day when people are in commute, meaning they will be spending time on their phones. Or, you can target them in the evening, when they are at home, relaxed and probably finally having enough time to shop for gifts for their family and friends.
You should also think about sending out texts that do not have to be followed through on the smartphone, considering that many people still prefer to do their actual shopping on their desktop computers. For example, you can send out SMS-exclusive promo codes for some of your products to the people on your opt-in page which they can then use on the desktop version of your site.
If you choose to do so, make sure that you set everything on your desktop site so that those customers are welcomed as members of a “special group” that came via text. This will ensure they stay on your opt-in list and recommend it to other people. You always have to think about the future.
It goes without saying that you will be tracking all of your SMS marketing results for future reference and, if you are smart, you will be doing some A/B testing too, testing variations of campaigns and approaches and then comparing them later. Once again for future use.
SMS marketing can be a fantastic addition to an ecommerce business’ holiday marketing arsenal. It has some great numbers to support it and the possibilities are actually much more varied than one would presume. Another great thing is that not that many ecommerce companies take full advantage of SMS marketing and when the insanely competitive holiday season arrives, your SMS marketing efforts might be the one thing that wins the season for you.
AUTHOR: James D. Burbank has been working in marketing for almost two decades. For the last couple of years, he has been working closely with some ecommerce companies and finding his way in this brave new world. He is the editor-in-chief of BizzMarkBlog, a business-oriented blog he runs with a few friends.
Co-Founder, Gleantap & Mastera