Retailers turn to text to connect with customers

Discussion
Apr 05, 2016
George Anderson

As recently reported on this site, consumers get a lot of e-mail from retailers. While many individuals are unhappy with the practice, the numbers also show it generates sales. The success of e-mail promotions has led to even more such communications, making it more difficult for retailers to break through the noise. So what’s a retailer to do? Find somewhere else to make noise, say via text messages, for example.

There’s no denying that text messaging is become a part of American life. How many Baby Boomer parents have found it nearly impossible at times to get their Millennial kids on the phone for a call, but get almost instant responses after sending a text?

Text, when used as a two-way communication tool, can provide retailers with an advantage over mass e-mail campaigns.

Nordstrom’s opt-in TextStyle service enables a store associate to text items of interest to a customer. When a customer responds with a code provided by Nordstrom, items are automatically rung up and processed. Up to 12 items can be offered to customers in this manner per text.

“TextStyle is an important step forward in our continued efforts to develop ways to serve customers on their terms,” Jamie Nordstrom, president of stores for Nordstrom, said last May when the service was launched. “For customers who prefer text messaging, TextStyle is a way for our salespeople to provide a personalized styling experience and for customers to view and buy seamlessly with the convenience and simplicity of a text message, wherever and whenever they like.”

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS:
What do you see as the opportunities and challenges of retailers using text messaging with customers? Do you see text as more of a marketing or customer service tool in the relationship between retailer and consumer?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
Braintrust
"Text is as much a marketing tool as it is a customer service one. It’s a matter of how it is used and for whom."
"I think text messaging is a great way to communicate with customers in the moment. If I’m waiting for a fitting room, or a table in a restaurant, texting is a great way to notify the customer that their room or table is ready."
"Texts are much more distracting than emails so the stakes for message quality are much higher. An uninteresting email will be deleted at the customer’s leisure with minimal harm done, an uninteresting text will provoke anger that stays with the brand."

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18 Comments on "Retailers turn to text to connect with customers"


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Cathy Hotka
Guest
4 years 6 months ago

The key word in this piece is “opt-in.” If a customer has a relationship with a certain salesperson and wants to receive text updates that’s fine because it’s targeted and relevant. Most consumers, though, won’t want their phone dinging with reminders about today’s special 30 percent off, using the every-day-is-better model that they use for email promotions. (Email-happy retailers: you know who you are … )

Max Goldberg
Guest
4 years 6 months ago

There is a generational divide when it comes to text messaging: Boomers use it as a communication tool but prefer face-to-face or email communication, while Millennials prefer text and social to face-to-face. For retailers, this means that separate strategies must be developed to reach different consumer groups. To the proper groups, an opt-in text messaging campaign might be welcome. To others it can be a complete turn-off.

Ralph Jacobson
Guest
4 years 6 months ago

Text as a tool is what the retailer makes of it. I know of a small grocer in Chicago that started texting offers around a decade ago. No, retailer texting is nothing new. What is new, is the analytics that can go in behind the text campaigns to determine which shoppers respond to what kind of texts. Not all shoppers respond the same way to marketing texts. And the same goes for services-oriented texts. The opportunity is to define the audience for every type of campaign and ensure that the right texts go to the most interested audience.

Chris Petersen, PhD.
Guest
4 years 6 months ago

There is a limit to what can be communicated in 140 characters.

There are several advantages of text messaging: it can be targeted, personalized, interactive … and reach the highly coveted Millennial group.

But the power of interaction can also come at a huge cost/responsibility on the back end. While a retailer can blast out thousands of email or tweets at once with no further action required, texts imply and often require the ability to respond one-on-one to interested consumers.

Texting is another form of talking often requiring a human to respond. Will retailers invest in staff and training to execute texting as an interaction required to make it successful with consumers?

In an omnichannel world, it is all about relationships and experiences with consumers. Texting can be a highly effective tool for both marketing and service if it is seen as an opportunity for those that choose to engage.

Bob Amster
Guest
4 years 6 months ago
As with anything else in the universe, the effectiveness of texting is relative. Any form of communication that is not excessive, and is useful to the consumer more often than not, is an acceptable form of communication. A few years ago, the CEO of Barneys New York mandated that every sales associate receive a smartphone in order to enable direct, one-to-one communication with the customers. The customer would allow his/her personal sales associate to contact him/her, and even indicate the preferred method of communication. In many cases, that preferred method is text. In this case, the method is as effective as you can get, because the customer told you so! This same approach, however, may not work at all in other retail environments, for example, where the customer does not want to be “pampered” but rather left alone. So the challenge for each retailer is to understand their customer base and what it will demand or tolerate. Personally, I see texting as a customer service tool at the moment. That is not to say that,… Read more »
Ryan Mathews
Guest
4 years 6 months ago

Um … let’s see …

Email isn’t effective because everyone’s inboxes are jammed with communications, so the solution is to transfer the jamming out of the inbox and onto the smartphone … If over-communication is the challenge, then more communication is not the answer.

Text as a service tool? No problem.

Texting as one more digital promotion channel? Give the customer a break. Even if they have “opted in” that doesn’t mean they won’t come to resent you for clogging whatever communication channel they have available.

David Livingston
Guest
4 years 6 months ago

The biggest challenge is that consumers get annoyed by sterile text messages that don’t pay for the consumer to come shop. I don’t want a text telling me I’m getting a coupon to buy one meal and get 50 percent off on the second. I want a text that says I’m getting a free meal and a drink no strings attached. A local gas station often sends out a $1 off gas text. But you must go inside to redeem. Really? Only a dollar? Then you have to encounter some minimum wage worker that has no clue how to handle the transaction. Text messages need to be compelling and they need to be easy to redeem. Otherwise text messaging will be more of a barrier rather than a customer service tool. Or learn how to get personal with a customer. My barber will sometimes text she is not be busy because it’s a nice day and all the day laborers are out working. She will offer a free haircut and knows I tip well. Win-win.

Mohamed Amer
Guest
Mohamed Amer
4 years 6 months ago

If a consumer has a relationship with a store associate, then texting is a natural extension of their conversation. However, what makes texting more effective and with its own protocols and etiquette vis-a-vis email is that it is considered a live conversation rather than an asynchronous or one that you can just ignore.

If a retailer simply substitutes text for email and does not purposely modify their communication strategy, the backlash will be significant and harmful to their brand.

Text is as much a marketing tool as it is a customer service one. It’s a matter of how it is used and for whom. Without data-driven insight to make texting much more intelligent and personalized, the retailers’ message will turn from undesirable noise into brand-harming spam.

All forms of communications between retailer and consumer need to be viewed under a strategic umbrella — to do otherwise neglects basic business tenets at one’s peril.

Shep Hyken
Guest
4 years 6 months ago

If customers are willing to give you their personal mobile number for you to text messages and promotions to them, then it means they trust you. Don’t abuse the privilege with a mobile version of spam. You may not only lose the communication channel, you may lose the customer.

Marge Laney
Guest
4 years 6 months ago

I think text messaging is a great way to communicate with customers in the moment. If I’m waiting for a fitting room, or a table in a restaurant, texting is a great way to notify the customer that their room or table is ready.

Or as Cathy pointed out, texting with an associate that you have a personal connection with is fantastic for getting information about new products and services.

What I really don’t like is getting a promotional text message from Papa John’s Pizza! I actually just got one! I have never eaten a Papa John’s pizza and sending me unsolicited text messages on my phone is definitely not the way to get me to try one.

William Hogben
Guest
4 years 6 months ago

Texts are much more distracting than emails so the stakes for message quality are much higher. An uninteresting email will be deleted at the customer’s leisure with minimal harm done, an uninteresting text will provoke anger that stays with the brand. Even for customers who opt in I would steer clear of using texts for marketing.

Zel Bianco
Guest
4 years 6 months ago

In my opinion, texting is an excellent marketing tool as long as consumers opt in. Texts have a higher open rate compared to emails and they create immediacy. However, if customers start getting inundated with texts like they have with e-mails, they will more than likely cease to have such an impact. The challenge for companies is to not inundate their customers with texts and keep the content relative to the client.

Vahe Katros
Guest
Vahe Katros
4 years 6 months ago

Messaging applications are now bigger than social networks

The future user interface will be text — and don’t worry, it will have inline rich media, not just characters. And in those messages you will enter in commands to do stuff, and it’s already happening. And since retailing reflects culture, it’s worth it for you to learn more.

Messaging is becoming a complete platform where companies and retailers will manage customer conversations including marketing, commerce and service. Messaging and the development of associated bots have been the biggest development here in Silicon Valley and the world of tech in the last two years.

If your customers use text messaging, try to stay connected to what is happening in the text-as-a-platform world. Have your mobile IT person follow the announcements from next week’s Facebook Developer Conference, F8.

Lee Kent
Guest
4 years 6 months ago

The Nordstrom example is really one of clienteling. This is very different than simply using text to reach customers, IMHO

Text is considered by most to be more personal. You have to earn the right to text me. Email? You can send me promotions all day and if I’m not in a shopping mode, I just delete it. If I have an event coming up? I might just look to see what is new or what is on sale.

My text real estate is more precious. Don’t you go glomming up that space with promotions. If, on the other hand, you are my personal shopper and you have something that you know will go with something in my closet? You have my permission.

And that’s my 2 cents.

Li McClelland
Guest
Li McClelland
4 years 6 months ago

I love quick texting with friends and family to arrange meet-ups, and share news.

However, the only commercial establishments which have my authority to text me are my hair salon (in case there’s an unexpected scheduling delay), an airline (with updates on a particular imminent flight for which I am ticketed) and my auto dealership (to let me know that maintenance servicing is complete and the car is ready to be picked up.) So yes, I see texting as an excellent customer service tool when used respectfully and with my full consent.

The minute retailers move into the marketing realm to text me is the minute I will cease doing business with them.

Carlos Arambula
Guest
4 years 6 months ago

If used as a marketing tool, it will lead to the development of junk-text-filters. However, as a customer service tool to remind, announce, and communicate short immediate messages once the customer is engaged, it’s a wonderful tool.

Craig Sundstrom
Guest
4 years 6 months ago

The biggest challenge? The customer doesn’t want to be texted. Any marketing plan predicated on the principle “make noise” digs its own grave.

Kenneth Leung
Guest
4 years 6 months ago

If it is opt-in and context relevant, it can be a marketing tool. Text should be a customer service tool first because of the intimacy to the consumer and marketing as part of customer service communication is more preferred.

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Braintrust
"Text is as much a marketing tool as it is a customer service one. It’s a matter of how it is used and for whom."
"I think text messaging is a great way to communicate with customers in the moment. If I’m waiting for a fitting room, or a table in a restaurant, texting is a great way to notify the customer that their room or table is ready."
"Texts are much more distracting than emails so the stakes for message quality are much higher. An uninteresting email will be deleted at the customer’s leisure with minimal harm done, an uninteresting text will provoke anger that stays with the brand."

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