The Guide to Successful Ecommerce SMS Marketing — Why and How to Start

SMS has been a rock solid marketing channel for a long time. Some brands have embraced text messaging. Others are hesitant to pull the trigger, fearing it may be too invasive and drive customers away.

Evidence shows that SMS Marketing gets results for any ecommerce company.    

Why should you start collecting mobile numbers and using SMS? We’ll show you how using SMS as a strategy can benefit your business, and steps for getting started. If you need SMS marketing examples for inspiration, we’ve got that, too.

What is SMS marketing? How is it different from other channels? 

So what is SMS marketing? SMS marketing is text marketing. SMS stands for short message service. Ecommerce marketers use SMS campaigns to increase brand awareness, encourage customer engagement and stimulate sales.

Businesses have been able to use SMS campaigns for a long time. So naturally, some customers have higher expectations for this messaging platform. Savvy ecommerce marketers know the options for offering a more sophisticated customer experience: 

MMS (multimedia messaging service) for additional impact

Think of “multimedia messaging service” as SMS plus. With this enhanced version of text messaging, you can include images and the character limit expands from 160 to 1,600.  

MMS lets you show off an eye-catching accessory, or entertain and educate with an animated gif. It is a great SMS tool for creating compelling messages that play on emotion.  

It allows you to infuse vivid visuals into promotions for a new collection or special sale, big announcements, or celebratory messages like birthdays or anniversaries. Here is an example from FiGPiN that uses MMS for pre-order promotion of new collectible pins.  

SMS Marketing MMS example Figpin

Two-way SMS 

SMS improves customer service, at least if you make it a two-way communication channel. 

An integration with a customer service tool allows customers to text back and forth with a marketing or customer support team.

Or, test bidirectional messaging for acquiring feedback. Send an SMS after customers complete a purchase, asking them to rate their satisfaction.  

The Case for SMS Marketing: SMS Marketing Stats 

SMS marketing is an important part of the ecommerce merchant toolbox. And SMS is growing. Some brands sent 378% more SMS messages in 2020 compared to the year before. 

SMS campaign numbers are rising, but do ecommerce texts actually work?Yes. For a number of reasons:

  • The potential is immense. 65% of the world’s population sends and receives SMS messages.
  • Consumers want text messages. It is the most preferred channel for receiving brand updates, at 48%.
  • About one-third of SMS recipients typically engage with calls to action
  • 47% of the engaged SMS recipients will make a purchase
sms statistics sms marketing

SMS marketing prompted 2.65% of recipients to make a purchase in 2020—that’s double the conversion rate compared to the year before. As shown in the graphic below, conversion rates increased with each quarter. 

SMS conversion rates 2021

The sizable fourth-quarter uptick to 2.89% comes from Black Friday and Cyber Monday. Marketers sent more SMS messages those two days than they did throughout the previous month. 

The impact? Black Friday SMS activities were responsible for 2.5% of orders placed across all channels. Text marketing has staying power, and marketers know it.

5 SMS Benefits for Businesses

SMS promotions bring in sales and conversions. But that is not the only reason to use text marketing as a strategy. 

  1. People are increasingly smartphone dependent. A study shows that Americans’ daily screen time was 4 hours in 2020. So if a person is awake from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. —that’s 15 hours—they spend almost one-quarter of it on their phone. Even if their eyes aren’t glued to the phone when an SMS message arrives, the device is most likely nearby.  
  2. SMS attracts attention. Little says “drop what you’re doing and check me out” like a text message notification. That’s what makes them well-fit for hyper time-sensitive offers. For those who don’t immediately succumb to the ding, we’re betting that a good portion make a mental note to do so as soon as they can sneak a look.
  3. Texts are read. Even if your customer doesn’t hear a new text when it arrives, chances are they’ll see it soon since instant push notifications remain prominent on the screen until the message is read. Email messages, on the other hand, can go unopened for days (or ignored altogether) if users don’t act on them directly.
  4. SMS marketing is cheaper than customer retargeting or social media marketing. It costs more to send an SMS than email, but considerably less than digital advertising. Prices, in fact, have been rising in recent months as marketers return to pumping money into social media ads. Advertising costs grew 37% between 2020 and 2021
  5. You don’t need a graphic designer. Or the skill set required to compose and build beautiful, eye-catching messages. All you need is someone who can write clear and direct copy that motivates.  

Immediacy, mobile push, ease of use and more—all are ingredients for grabbing your customers’ attention exactly when you want it.

How to Get Started with SMS Marketing

If you’re convinced of SMS’ value and ready to give it a go, you need to get some things in place before releasing your first promotional SMS to the world. 

1. Choose an SMS Platform

Step one is deciding on the SMS engine. When SMS arrived on the scene as a marketing option, mass texting solutions were the norm. SMS platform options have since exploded.

There are a lot of technology solutions on the market that specialize in sending text messages. If you focus only on SMS communication and want to keep other marketing channels separate, most SMS software platforms integrate with any of the best ecommerce platforms.  

Considerations when deciding on a platform include: 

  • Functionality. Can your service send MMS, Two-way email and shortcodes? And you might want to seek SMS list-building tools and automations.
  • Access to data. A good marketing platform shows you the metrics to analyze impact and identify trends. As well as integrate with your other marketing software.
  • Cost. The price to send an SMS depends on the country of residence of the recipient. Pricing structure is typically based on credits.

4 of the best SMS marketing services

We’ve listed four of the best SMS marketing tools here.

Omnisend

Omnisend is the only platform in this list that allows for omnichannel marketing, meaning you can send singular promotional SMS campaigns plus weave them into automated workflows alongside emails and push notifications.

Omnisend saves you time with pre-built ecommerce workflows for cart abandonment, birthday, and order and shipping confirmation automations.
The platform also features SMS list-building tools, advanced segmentation, personalization and 24/7 support. 

Pricing: Low-tier plan holders can purchase SMS bundles; some plans receive free SMS credits.

EZ Texting

EZ Texting is the most comprehensive SMS-focused platform on this list, as its suite of tools were built specifically for SMS and a range of industries, from restaurants and government to hospitality and real estate. EZ texting solutions address four primary categories: sales and promotions, alerts and notifications, customer service, and lead generation.

Features include group messaging and mass texting, keywords, dedicated short codes, toll-free numbers and link shorteners.
Pricing is per a plan structure and starts at $19 / month with 4ct per credit. 

SlickText

SlickText is an SMS platform with an intuitive interface. It provides one-on-one account setup and training—as well as a free mobile app to manage activity.
SlickText is used by small businesses and the world’s largest companies. And makes sure that messages are compliant with regulations and carrier guidelines.

It has a large library of SMS automations and features, including two-way messaging, drip campaigns, loyalty rewards, text to win and text to vote, message scheduling and auto replies. Pricing follows a plan structure. SlickText has a free SMS 14 day trial. 

Twilio

Twilio is a cloud communications platform with APIs and integrates all types of  messaging. You might know them from transactional email provider Twilio SendGrid. You choose the channels you need and scale when ready. For example, start with SMS before expanding to MMS, two-way chat and WhatsApp.

Popular features include alerts for estimated time of arrival, sales leads, and appointment reminders, as well as marketing message delivery. The platform operates with pay-as-you-go pricing.

2. Get a dedicated SMS Marketing number

Securing a dedicated sending number sets you up for business. Carriers require brands to invest in their own virtual numbers. This prevents multiple businesses from sending messages from the same number. Be aware of the following options: 

  • 10-digit long codes (10DLCs) are emerging as a popular option for commercial (A2P) messaging. Still largely untested, they are appropriate for lower-volume texting and non-time-sensitive messages. 
  • Dedicated toll-free numbers are the standard go-to for brands that care about deliverability. They are approved for mass texting and can be instantly activated.
  • Dedicated short codes are memorable numbers that have the highest throughput. But, they are the priciest option with the lengthiest approval process.

3. Grow Your SMS and email marketing lists

Gaining explicit permission from customers is mandatory before sending any type of SMS marketing. Collect opt-ins the same way you build your email list — website popups, at checkout, and through other forms. For instance, SM Global Shop has a page dedicated solely for text alert signup. 

SMS signup Shop

Marketers should be aware of the U.S. Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) and similar local regulations. The TCPA prohibits telemarketing to non-consenting customers. Violations are hefty, in the form of $500 for each SMS sent. So you need to get that SMS permission

You can promote SMS list sign up at your brick and mortar store even when processing payments if your POS software allows it, or any touchpoint you have.

5 SMS Marketing Examples

There are two general approaches to sliding SMS into your marketing arsenal: a one-off campaign with SMS as the single channel, or a drip campaign that combines a text message or two with other channel messaging. 

#1 Stand-Alone SMS Campaigns

There are times when ecommerce marketers need to be bold. These instances call for instantaneous reach. Or, the message’s uniqueness deserves a megaphone that outperforms email’s open rate. 

Promotional announcements are ideal candidates for stand-alone SMS campaigns. These are your best promotions, those that you know will make a splash, such as: 

  • Flash sales
  • Hot-selling items
  • Last-chance reminders
  • SMS-only offers/reward program benefits  

You’ve heard of FOMO, or fear of missing out. Research shows that FOMO drives 60% of people to make a purchase, usually within 24 hours.

Image-focused MMS is a fantastic mechanism for making these FOMO-inclined messages pop and emphasizing their importance. For example, Lurella Cosmetics pushed an early announcement of two popular products to its most engaged customers, before featuring it in an email sent days later to a broader audience.  

SMS marketing example

Automated SMS Workflows

It’s quick and easy to send an SMS campaign. But it’s only text, and therefore has its limits.

A marketing campaign that combines emails with SMS is more powerful. Combining both channels into an automated workflow creates greater personalization and a seamless omnichannel experience for the customer. 

We’ve rounded up some automated SMS campaign examples to illustrate how this can work. 

#2 Welcome Series with SMS and email

Greet newcomers and engage them with your brand through staggered messaging. Here’s an example of what we mean:   

  1. First email: product recommendations with an incentive
  2. Second email: reviews based on tracked interests, expanded product recommendations, and an incentive reminder
  3. Third email: telling the brand’s story, more recommendations, and another incentive reminder 
  4. SMS message: reminder that the welcome offer is about to expire

A simpler multi-message welcome series, composed of one email and one SMS, can be just as impactful. 

#3 Cart Abandonment series with email and SMS

Cart abandonment is a widely known problem among merchants. According to research, 88% of online shopping carts were abandoned in March 2020. 

Luring these prospects back is crucial for sales. Ecommerce marketers typically use email as the bait. 

Equestrian apparel company Kerrits discovered that adding SMS to email on abandoned purchases helps immensely. In fact, an SMS is the first message sent to opted-in customers who leave their cart without checking out. 

SMS cart abandonment example Kerrits

Depending on the customer’s response, the workflow triggers up to two subsequent emails. 

Abandoned cart emails account for 29% of Kerrit’s automated email revenue, and a revenue per email (RPE) of $6.64. The SMS portion is responsible for a 15% conversion rate and RPE of $2.87.

#4 Celebrations SMS

We don’t advise sending every message via SMS, but we highly recommend the channel for  noteworthy occasions. Events like your customer’s birthday, or a loyalty program membership anniversary, fit the bill. 

Make your customer feel special with an offer or discount that’s sent to their phone. Continue the celebration with a followup email. 

SMS email birthday workflow example

#5 Order and Shipping Confirmation

Have you ever placed an online order and waited—and waited some more—for the confirmation email to arrive? 

Allow your customers to opt in for SMS confirmation. It is super direct, fast and eliminates any second-guessing when digital gremlins attack and cause email delays. An automatic text also establishes your brand as trustworthy with the customer’s best interests in mind. 

Tap the SMS-email combo for shipping notifications, too. While you have the customer’s attention, it might be an opportune time to advertise complementary products. 

SMS Best Practices

What is SMS marketing if it doesn’t build and sustain fruitful relationships with your customers? For the channel to thrive, it’s best to start with a simple strategy.

Start with two questions, and imagine you’re the customer when considering the answers:

  1. In what way will you use SMS marketing, and how frequently?
  2. Where do you draw the line between use of the channel, and overuse? 

Overarching strategy aside, here are 5 SMS marketing tips and best practices:  

  1. Segment. Customers love feeling like a message was crafted especially for them. Conjuring such sentiments depends on segmentation. Imagine all the lists you can create around shopping behaviors, marketing campaign engagement, demographics and more. Devise appropriate messages for each and if you’ve got them, add first name or other profile information to further personalize.   
  2. Be brief. The limit is 160 characters for SMS and 1,600 for MMS. Use the space wisely. Ask yourself, “What’s the point of the message, and the shortest way I can say it?” Include a link to more detailed information. 
  3. Ban slag. Use of SMS from a business is very different from personal texting. Reserve text slang for your personal messages. Stick to proper, yet casual, English. 
  4. Be mindful of your sending times. Text message notifications are enabled at all times on most phones. The guideline: send messages between 9 AM and 9 PM.
  5. Prompt your  customers to make a move. Include a straightforward call to action (CTA) with corresponding link. 

SMS marketing isn’t a channel that stands lonely by itself. Many businesses have seen success in an omnichannel approach, reinforcing SMS messages with an email and incorporating other channels in cross channel SMS campaigns. Email and other channels allow you to communicate more details, and offer more options than the short message service (it’s in the name).

Adopt SMS as a tool in your marketing toolkit. Combine it with automated workflows and  experiment with singular SMS promotional campaigns.    

SMS has the capability to elevate any brand’s presence, customer relationships and sales. 

Tracy Puckett

About Tracy Puckett


Tracy Puckett is a Content Marketing Manager for Omnisend, an email and SMS marketing automation platform trusted by over 50,000 e-commerce brands. She believes in the immense power of the written word. Free time is for family, exploring community gems, and reading.

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