How SMS Messaging Can Help Get Buyers Back

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E-commerce businesses have a huge problem. Consumers fill up their shopping carts, then rudely abandon them before completing a purchase. Of course, they don’t mean to be rude, they have their reasons for leaving a full cart behind. But the trouble is that most people leave their carts behind. On average, about 67% of shoppers abandon their carts and cost  retailers around $18 billion (approx. £12B) each year.

But what if it were possible to get some of those sales back?

What people do about it

Of course online retailers try to get those people to come back to their cart. I often get emails with the “Did you forget something?” subject lines. And it is commonplace to have email integration with the online shopping cart software. These emails get sent out automatically at some preset time after a shopper leaves.

But research shows that less than half of these reminder emails are ever opened. Even when they are, email conversion rates are in the low single digits. So if someone hasn’t already purchased the items somewhere else, they aren’t likely to click through and buy them based on an email either. Some small percentage will of course. And that’s better than nothing, but it could be better.

Another way retailers try to reach out to shoppers who leave their carts behind is using mobile notifications. If a shopper used their app to browse and fill up the cart, the app can send them a brief note asking them to come back and finish what they started. Of course not every online retailer will have an app. Even if they do though, 60% of people on iOS turn off or refuse app notifications. On Android, app notifications don’t require permission so users are overloaded with notification spam. Users of either mobile system just aren’t likely to see a notification.

SMS is different

SMS is the only form of communication that breaks through all the issues above you find with notifications and email (even voice calls don’t get the kind of response SMS does). This is true in general, but it can be especially powerful getting people back to their shopping carts.

Before we get much farther I wanted to share the reasons people abandon their carts in the first place.

A number of different sources say that high shipping cost is the number one reason shoppers fail to complete a purchase. Other reasons include time restraints, out of stock items, payment processing issues, or they are comparison shopping.

Given those reasons, you’d think that a quick reminder, or offer to help would bring most people back – if they saw the message.

SMS can deliver that message in the most direct way possible with today’s technology. People keep their mobiles within arms reach most of the time. Every time they hear that ding, ringtone, or song they look to see what the message is.

To make this more concrete let’s look at an example. Let’s say someone left their cart because they ran out of time when they were shopping. An hour or so after they left you send them a short SMS message asking if they need any help with their purchase and include a link to the cart. When they get the message, they’re sitting around with nothing to do for another 10 minutes so they go ahead and complete the checkout.

Young businesswoman in office with mobile phone sending a text message. Caucasian young woman sitting at the desk working. Female working in home office.

Now let’s say they left because shipping was too high.  If that’s the case send the same message but offer them 10% off their purchase if they complete it using the link you provide in the message. That discount might make a difference in how the person perceives the total cost so they go ahead and finish the sale. If you have rampant abandonments due to shipping costs then consider sending a link with free shipping (you probably will have to do some testing to see what offers work best for you).

These are probably the same types of offers or content you’ve used or seen in email. The difference is how effective the message will be. With SMS, your customers are literally waiting for your message. Well, they’re ready to read every message they get, so it might as well be your message. With email or notifications they might see your message. They might not. And even if they do, it could be hours or days later.

Sending an SMS message around an hour after the cart is abandoned is what most ecommerce experts recommend. They also say that people who do return after seeing your message spend 55% more. It’s hard to imagine a better reason to start sending SMS reminders for abandoned carts!

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