Texting customers became a business norm almost overnight, with more consumers than ever saying they prefer a text over a phone call. When PERQ recently surveyed thousands of home furnishing shoppers searching retail store websites, 13.5% picked text messaging as their preferred method of contact and only 7.5% chose phone calls as their top choice.
Email remained the clear winner, with 79% of online furniture shoppers choosing that option in PERQ’s survey. However, digital marketing experts predict marketing emails will soon saturate consumers’ inboxes and spur a surge in the use of text messaging to reach leads. Text is already proving to be more effective than emails.
Recent marketing studies estimate that at a 90% open rate, SMS (short message service) performs nearly 5 times better than B2C emails, which average around a 20% open rate. Those same studies found text messages sent to customers get 7.5 times more responses than emails, with a 45% response rate for SMS versus 6% for email.
A couple of years ago, it seemed intrusive if a salesperson texted you. By being one of the first in your market to offer SMS, online chat or text conversations, your home furnishings store can capitalize on this accelerating texting trend, making it easier for customers to immediately connect with your knowledgeable staff and quickly convert into an in-store sale.
“Monitoring and engaging through text requires a resource investment for retailers, but the choice is either to engage it or make peace with the fact you’ll lose that customer to a competitor who is willing to invest in it,” says Dave Weiss, Marketing Manager at Sherman’s, a furniture retailer in central Illinois who uses a variety of text messaging platforms to communicate with customers.
If you already talk to your customers via text or plan to add the option in the near future, here are 3 tips to make sure you are effective as possible when communicating with text messaging.
1. Don’t Assume All Shoppers Prefer Text Messages
While texting is blowing up in the world of digital marketing and B2C communication, not all consumers prefer text over email and telephone, and some only like it for certain parts of the sales process, like setting up a delivery. Don’t make assumptions and start sending unsolicited text messages to every lead you get.
Shoppers Adam and Angela Wire say they personally prefer to shop local at a store that specializes in what they’re seeking and rarely buy from generalized online e-commerce sites like Amazon. Born at the tailend of Generation X, which witnessed the digital revolution and remember a time without smartphones, internet and home computers, they’re the shoppers in their late 30s and early 40s who straddle the technology divide and still find value in simpler sales methods. They still start their search for big-ticket items online, narrowing down their options before visiting a handful of retailers to make a final decision.
The Indianapolis couple recently bought a new couch, recliner and dining room set. “We looked at options online beforehand, comparing various local furniture stores. I always do this for larger items like a car or appliances,” Adam says. “We communicated with the furniture store on delivery set-up via text message and that went well, but I’m only OK with that if I tell a retailer to communicate with me via text. I have no desire for a company to ever try to sell me anything or initiate conversation with me through texting unless I ask them to do so.”
Weiss advises retailers to follow that same philosophy. “At this time, we don’t use text as a promotional outbound vehicle like we use email,” he says. “Texting is far more personal and disruptive, so we view it as more of an inbound lead channel or for customer service inquiries.”
2. Ask Online Shoppers Which Communication Method They Prefer
Start where shoppers start, online. By integrating AI software on your website, you can discreetly ask online shoppers which communication mode they prefer along with other personal information your sales associates can use to better nurture and convert the lead.
Find out how they prefer to communicate with your sales team, and respect their response by using that mode when initiating the initial contact with an online lead. “It’s our responsibility as retailers to adapt to however customers wish to communicate with us, and they have certainly shown that text is now a preferred channel,” Weiss says. “More broadly, I don’t think texting is great for all customers, but there are many who find it the most convenient way to get quick answers to simple questions.”
Sherman’s uses a mix of web chat, Google text through mobile listings, and Facebook Messenger to communicate with customers who initiate contact through those inbound streams. “We text review invites after delivery, and see a much higher response rate with text than we used to with email alone,” Weiss says. “Many customers choose to keep that review invite text thread open and ask follow-up questions after the sale.”
3. Use Marketing Automation and Templates for Text Nurture
John Neal Jr., Vice President at Neal’s Furniture in Oklahoma, says his stores also experience a much higher customer interaction rate when utilizing text messages as opposed to emails and phone calls, and successfully convert many of their text leads into store sales.
“A text message does not demand your attention so it’s naturally less obtrusive than a phone call, but still just as personal. A customer can respond if and when they decide to,” says Neal Jr. “A sales associate has the added benefit of tracking past conversations and referencing them as needed.”
Neal’s Furniture developed templated responses for responding to specific kinds of customer text messages and simply add a new template if they encounter a new scenario without a proper response saved in the system. “That automation allows for quick and efficient responses, while not demanding much time or mental strain,” says Neal Jr. “If we receive a message after hours, the customer will receive an automated message letting them know we are closed and that we will get back with them as soon as possible.”
His staff can see incoming customer texts from their phones, and can even choose to respond to a request when the store is closed. A Neal sales associate recently converted an online lead into an in-store sale in less than 24 hours by immediately responding to a consumer’s question sent by text message after hours on a Sunday.
“As a whole, text message conversations used for follow-ups and initial conversations have been received by our customers and sales staff as a benefit, if not a preferred method,” says Neal Jr. “Conversations, pictures, receipts, quotes, reviews, emojis, etc. can be sent directly to the device that the customer uses all day and lives in their pocket! Why wouldn’t that be the way businesses talk to their customers?”