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Despite being the new(ish) marketing channel on the block, SMS has quickly become one of the best tools for ecommerce brands to connect with—and convert—customers and prospects. In 2021, brands that embraced text saw incredible ROI results, and we expect many more success stories in 2022. But as adoption increases, we’ll also witness a lot of change in the SMS space.
Curious about what’s on the horizon—and how you can prime your business for success in the shifting SMS landscape? Read on to learn what our network of “textperts” had to say about the year ahead.
SMS will be the channel of choice for transactional and informational messages as well as customer support.
These days, no one thinks twice about receiving text notifications from their go-to rideshare or delivery service. In fact, consumers have grown to expect real-time updates with certain purchases—and the range of widely accepted use cases for those types of transactional text messages will expand in 2022.
“Generally, more and more consumers will opt into SMS as a way of getting real-time updates, versus email,” said Jess Meher, the CEO of order tracking app Wonderment. “We saw this begin in 2021, where more brands are collecting consent on their tracking pages, and then using that to notify customers of important updates—especially actionable ones like ‘out for delivery,’ ‘delivery,’ or ‘delivery failure’ notices on perishable goods. SMS will move from early adopter brands to mainstream for perishable food and beverage brands.”
Two-way interactions between subscribers and brands will be the norm.
As transactional messages take on a more conversational form, consumers will naturally expect the ability to engage in conversation with their favorite brands.
“Brands will get more creative in how they communicate transactional-like messages so they feel less transactional and more one-to-one and human,” Meher continued. “Customers will also have heightened expectations of being able to reply to these messages and have a conversation with their favorite brands. Solving customer experience issues quickly and smoothly will be a key use of conversational messaging.”
In fact, customers will increasingly initiate SMS conversations anytime they need support or have a question—whether they’re having trouble using a product, wondering when their favorite items will be back in stock, or wanting to know when the next big sale will happen. “In the land of e-commerce, SMS will not only be a place where you can promote or share brand updates, but it also has the potential to become the way customers directly shop, interact and ask questions with the customer service team, or even [chat with] the founder,” said Mina Hadjian, the Director of Digital Marketing at herbal supplement brand Organic Olivia.
Heightened customer expectations around messaging will be especially prevalent in the luxury market. “SMS customer support will continue to grow for ecommerce, especially for higher-priced goods,” said Dean Dutro, the CEO of Worth eCommerce, A Smartbug Company.
Outbound SMS messages will be more personalized.
As consumers start to treat SMS as a direct line to their favorite brands, outbound messages (i.e., those initiated by brands) will also start to feel more “one-to-one.” Gone are the days of weekly full-list blasts. In the next year and beyond, SMS will rise to its potential as a genuinely two-way medium. “SMS will become a more interactive marketing channel where brands communicate with consumers,” said Ryan O’Connor, the Co-Founder of Worth eCommerce, A SmartBug Company.
That means thinking about each subscriber as an individual human being—not just another number in a database. “Ultimately, this is a channel where your customers have given you one of their most personal pieces of information, their phone number,” Hadjian said. “It’s important to handle each phone number with care. Text them like you’re texting your friend—or as I always say, treat it like a group chat with your closest friends. That’s the tone we like to lead with which has allowed us to maintain our subscribers.”
In other words, the era of true conversational commerce is upon us. “2022 is going to be the year brands properly invest in conversational SMS,” said Jeremy Horowitz, the host of Messenger Mastermind. “As more brands adopt SMS, competition will force brands to differentiate themselves through unique customer experiences. Sending messages that generate actual conversations is one of the best ways to uniquely position your brand and build relationships with customers.”
(Want to see great conversational SMS in action? Check out the “Conversational” category of Fantastic Texts—our constantly updated library of awesome SMS marketing examples.)
The migration away from email as the primary customer communication channel will accelerate.
As brands rethink their overall messaging strategy to better meet their customers where they are, we’ll see the scales tip away from email even more—particularly for time-sensitive messages about things like restocked or low-stock items.
“Candidly, as a consumer, if something is going to be hard to purchase because of high demand and low availability, I want my best shot at purchasing—and for me, that is never by social or email because I just don’t live on those channels the same way I do text,” said Postscript’s own Senior Market Intelligence Manager, Mindy Regnell.
That’s not to say email will go away entirely. Brands have relied primarily on email for decades, and many will continue using it for certain types of content—especially long-form. Unfortunately, though, commercial overuse and abuse of email have chipped away at its effectiveness.
The latest iOS update dealt email another major blow, and marketers can expect to see similar privacy changes from other providers. “I think it’s fair to say that others will continue to follow suit,” Regnell said. “I think things like Hide My Email are going to become increasingly common. The first time I used Hide My Email as a consumer, I was surprised to see that it didn’t look like a fake email address at first glance.”
SMS will lose its “invasive” stigma.
As brands move more of their messaging to SMS, it will naturally start to feel more ordinary to consumers and merchants alike.“I think the merchant perception of SMS marketing has changed over the last couple of years,” said Ryker Montgomery, Marketing Director at premium men’s watch brand Jack Mason. “Early on in digital marketing, I think SMS marketing seemed like a very invasive idea to merchants. They felt like it was not a very professional way to approach their customer base. That idea has changed. Every brand I speak to now has at least some level of SMS marketing strategy in play, and rightfully so. If you are not pushing SMS marketing, then you are way behind the curve.”
Gabe Quintela, the CEO, and Founder of nutritional supplement brand InsaneLabz, echoed Montgomery’s sentiments. “I think SMS will outgrow email and become the next wave of how you communicate with customers if it already hasn’t,” Quintela said. “The amount of brands I get an SMS from compared to before the pandemic has probably grown by 300%.”
SMS will become the top revenue generation channel for ecommerce brands.
With massive privacy changes putting a squeeze on ROAS, SMS has emerged as a key way to nurture those interested in your brand toward purchase. According to Quintela, many brands that were initially wary of SMS felt more inclined to give it a go following the aforementioned iOS15 changes and Google’s pledge to phase out third-party cookies. “I feel it’s forced people to look for new strategies,” Quintela said.
Still, it’s important not to confuse privacy with personalization—because consumers will continue to demand personalized experiences. “The death of the cookie means it’s going to be increasingly hard to acquire new customers because you can’t track behavior across sites,” Regnell said. “Brands will be forced to really lean into the data they are directly capturing. How can you sync data across all of those channels so you can provide personalized experiences?”
Organic Olivia has done exactly that: “Cost can be a barrier; however, if you start out with the intention of connecting and being more personal via SMS, you’ll see a better ROI in the long run,” said Hadjian. “Promotional blasts and repetitive messages definitely have a shelf life.”
Brands that prioritize segmentation and personalization have experienced overwhelmingly positive results—to the point that SMS either has become or is becoming their biggest marketing moneymaker. “It’s quickly becoming our largest revenue channel,” Quintela said. “We have put a ton of energy, focus, and resources into growing it the past year and will continue to double down on it in 2022. It’s an absolute game-changer.”
Reply-to-buy functionality will help brands maximize the revenue potential of SMS.
Dutro expects SMS-attributed revenue to grow even more as reply-to-buy becomes more commonplace. “Pay over text will increase consumer spending and conversions,” he said.
Reorder reminders will be sent almost exclusively via text.
Product replenishment reminders will be another important revenue tool for SMS marketers in 2022. “SMS blew up in 2021 as brands started to recognize the power of the channel,” said Kim Stiefel, CEO of reorder automation platform Repeat. “2022 will be the year where reorder notifications/strategies move from email to text. From what we’re seeing, end-customers prefer to receive these types of reminders via text as they enable seamless, faster reorder experiences.”
SMS will turn every customer service interaction into a sales opportunity.
Horowitz says the true power of SMS as a conversion tool stems from its power as a conversation tool. By fully embracing text, he advises, your brand can benefit in a number of ways. “Brands will provide customers with novel experiences to navigate the online experience and allow a brand unique experiences to capture zero party data to leverage in their marketing,” he said. “And brands will flip their customer service area of their business from a cost center to a revenue driver.”
According to Chris Lavoie, Senior Tech Partner Manager at customer support platform Gorgias, the ability to manage text conversations in real-time will make or break customer-facing teams’ ability to capitalize on conversion opportunities. “The key to unlocking successful conversational commerce in 2022 is speed,” Lavoie said. “If you’re able to respond to customers’ pre-sale questions via SMS in under ten minutes, conversion rates go up to 28–35%. That’s why integrating your customer support and SMS strategy should be a top priority for the new year.”
Consumers will subscribe to a very limited number of brands—and the competition for opt-ins will be fierce.
As we move higher on the SMS adoption curve, consumers will become more judicious about which brands they allow into their messages. Dutro predicts that each individual will subscribe to about 5–7 companies on SMS.
It’s nothing we haven’t seen before with other digital channels. “SMS will become more competitive, so brands will have a difficult time competing for attention and clicks, exactly like social ads and email,” O’Connor said.
Increased regulatory pressure from carriers and government agencies will shape SMS platform development.
SMS is still a relatively new marketing channel, and as we’ve seen with its predecessors—email and paid digital ads—the rules and regulations governing usage typically lag behind. In 2022, we’ll start to see more serious guardrails go up.
For example: “Carriers may start to limit the number of promotional campaigns sent via text,” Dutro said.
Elliot Ginsburg, Head of Legal at Postscript, added that he expects more state-level SMS regulations like those Florida adopted in 2021.
On the software side, platforms may see additional privacy and security requirements. “SMS software will need to find ways to limit fake SMS phone numbers (if they have not already),” Dutro continued. “[They will also] need to enhance privacy protocols to prevent data leaks.”
List-building will be the top SMS priority for most brands.
As SMS settles into its place at the mainstream marketing table, many brands will focus their efforts on phone number collection in 2022. And as previously noted, winning those opt-ins will get tougher and tougher.
According to Kelsey Stapleton, Director of Customer Success at conversion optimization platform Justuno, the key is adjusting your collection strategy based on where a visitor is in their buying journey. “For new visitors, the two-step lead capture is a great place to start, simultaneously growing email and SMS databases,” she said. “For returning visitors who haven’t opted in, trigger an SMS opt-in when they add an item to their cart to give them 15% off right now.”
And for those first-time customers? Stapleton advises brands to use an SMS opt-in on the thank-you page that offers them a free gift or upgraded shipping if they sign up for SMS. “Then give them order updates and shipping info via text for the most helpful and valuable experience right off the bat,” she said.
Regnell says that as phone number collection becomes more common, brands must start thinking beyond standard opt-in placements. “It will get easier for brands to enable opt-in, especially with the changes Shopify made in late 2021,” she said. “So we will see more brands giving the ability to opt-in, but they are going to be competing for those. I think we’ll start seeing more creative ways to drive list growth—like signing up for ‘back in stock’ notifications.”
Brands that leverage SMS for customer reviews will own the social proof arena.
There’s no question that ratings and reviews are a crucial piece of the marketing puzzle for DTC brands. In the coming year, savvy brands will leverage SMS to make the review collection process more seamless. “2022 is the year that more brands start using SMS to boost review generation,” said Rachel Tyers, VP of Strategic Partnerships at Okendo. “75% of reviews already come from mobile devices, and with such high SMS engagement rates, brands that want to maximize review capture are turning to text messages.”
The impact of reviews goes beyond supporting bottom-of-funnel purchasing decisions. In fact, they add value at all stages of the customer lifecycle. “The more reviews a brand can generate, the more social proof, UGC, and zero-party data they’ll have at their disposal to use for their marketing campaigns—increasing customer conversions and customer lifetime value,” Tyers added.
It’s shaping up to be a heck of a year for SMS. Ready to start your 2022 text strategy on the right foot? Check out this article for tons of great ideas on texts to send in January.