Customer Retention

Is Text Messaging the Next Commerce Channel?

Text messaging is an emerging commerce channel impacting shoppers, merchants, and platforms.

When he launched Wine Library’s Wine Text service in 2019, entrepreneur and marketer Gary Vaynerchuk effectively created a new ecommerce vehicle.

Visitors to the Wine Text website can subscribe, adding payment information and a shipping address upfront. Then, like a text version of a daily-deal site, Wine Text sends wine offers daily via text. The recipient shopper could buy by simply messaging the number of bottles.

“The thesis of this incredible service, this revolutionary service…has been how do you spend two minutes to sign up — the address you’re shipping the wine to and the credit card you’re using — so that when you get the text daily, it takes two seconds,” said Vaynerchuk in a video posted on the Wine Text home page.

A few pundits (including me) asked, “Why isn’t this already a thing?”

Shoppers

In a sense, it was already a thing. Wine Text and the various platforms it inspired are part of a shopping trend.

“I believe that the natural progression to more simplified purchasing experiences, and meeting consumers where they are (social media, chat, text message, video), favors the rise of text messages as a preferred conversational commerce mode by consumers and business,” said Blu Atwood, CEO of text commerce firm Textual, in an email.

Retailers want to eliminate ecommerce friction and make it easier for shoppers to buy. Placing online orders over an Alexa device is an example of this trend. So too were Amazon’s now-shuttered Dash buttons.

Text commerce is the most recent iteration and one that could gain serious traction.

Merchants

Text messaging won’t be a platform for every seller, but it can be for many.

“I don’t think we will be buying mattresses through text messaging anytime soon,” said Sam Schrup, the founder of TextRetailer, another text-to-buy platform.

“Rather, this is well suited for a certain category of products. Wine is one. Coffee is another. We’re seeing a lot in cosmetics. The common theme between all of those is something easy to ship, is consumable… and there is enough variety,” Schrup said.

Merchants can focus on curating products, offering easy replenishment, and promoting deals.

In each case, the medium gives retailers a new channel and a new opportunity to connect with consumers.

Screenshot of TextRetailer's service with examples from KC Needlepoint and BeautyText.

KC Needlepoint (left) and BeautyText are examples of merchants successfully selling products via TextRetailer’s service.

Platforms

To be sure, shopping via text message is not new. Amazon, for example, launched a mobile service called TextBuyIt in 2008.

“With today’s launch of TextBuyIt, any Amazon.com customer can now use any mobile device to shop and buy from Amazon.com, at any time, anywhere they are,” said Howard Gefen, the director at the time of Amazon Mobile Payments, in a press release.

“With TextBuyIt, if you’re walking out of a concert and want to buy a CD from the artist you just saw, or if you’re at dinner and a friend tells you about a great book you should read, all you have to do is get out your mobile device, send a text message to Amazon, reply to the response, confirm your order, and your item will be on its way. It’s incredibly simple and convenient.”

Amazon was ahead of the times. Since then, consumers have become more comfortable with both ecommerce and text messaging. Platforms and merchants might want to try again.

Textual and TextRetailer are examples of messaging-based commerce services ready for retailers. More services are coming.

Walmart, for example, is testing text to shop. The shopper texts a product name, Walmart makes a suggestion, and the shopper confirms. Done. Ordered.

Screenshot of Walmart's text to buy page.

Walmart has been testing a text-to-shop service that makes replenishment easy.

Don’t be surprised if other enterprise retailers or even ecommerce platforms offer similar services soon. Amazon might do it again. Shopify, Adobe Magento, BigCommerce, and Miva could all try it.

Potential Challenges

The current generation of text commerce services will likely need to address a few challenges to succeed.

  • Competition. The industry could become too fragmented.
  • Ecommerce platforms. Shopify and other platforms could quash text-to-shop services via restrictions on the platform’s app or API.
  • Carriers. Mobile carriers have already started to limit text commerce, even banning some product categories. If consumers view commerce text messages as spam, these carriers might end it.

Hence the new text-to-buy services may go the way of Amazon’s Dash and TextBuyIt. Or they could become a powerful new channel.

Armando Roggio

Armando Roggio

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