A Beginner's Guide to SMS Marketing: Examples, Best Practices, and Tips

Nothing tells you the holidays are near quite like a noisy inbox. “Preview our early Black Friday deals!” “BOGO deals start NOW!” “Get $5 off this Thanksgiving!” The list goes on. 

So it’s probably no surprise that email open rates are at their lowest during the holidays—18.6% according to Campaign Monitor—and as more businesses move online, analysts expect inboxes to be saturated in the near future.

As the owner of Bushbalm (and a Shopify employee by day), I’ve been more successful cutting through this noise with SMS marketing

SMS marketing gets high engagement—even higher conversion rates—and is more cost-efficient overall. Best of all, it’s more personal than many other marketing channels and fosters stronger customer relationships.

In this blog post, we’ll run through the basics of SMS marketing and some best practices and examples so you can build your SMS marketing program.

What is SMS marketing?

SMS marketing uses short message service (SMS) text to create relationships and satisfy customers. Text marketers focus on respectful and compliant communications with their target audience. They drive leads and interest in products and services, which can involve writing positioning, imagery, and click-to-purchase options. 

How SMS marketing works

Strategically, email and SMS marketing are similar. The goal of SMS marketing, like email marketing, is usually to sell, educate, or build loyalty. SMS is an “owned” marketing channel—the sender fully controls the list of numbers and distribution—and businesses can send one-to-one or one-to-many messages, depending on their goals.

Just like email marketing, you must ensure that you are compliantly capturing consent from customers before sending them a marketing message via an SMS message. 

Shopify has made it easy for you to begin capturing each SMS consent at checkout. To turn this feature on, follow the steps outlined

Once you get consent from a subscriber, you can test many different types of SMS marketing campaigns:

  • New product announcements 
  • Special offers (limited-time sales, free shipping)
  • Subscriber-exclusive offers 
  • Flash sales
  • Text-to-win competitions
  • Loyalty programs
  • Product drop alerts

SMS marketing requires a short code, the SMS equivalent of a company email address. A short code is simply an abbreviated phone number of five or six digits; they’re “short” so they’re easy to remember.

To opt into receiving your SMS messages, buyers text a keyword (like: HOTSAUCE) to this short code. Subscribing to SMS messages is a deliberate act, and rarely leads to bogus numbers. 

Subscribe to texts by sending a keyword to a short code.

Before you start a mobile marketing campaign, you need to build a list of phone numbers with opt-in consent to send promotional messages. 

Typically, you’d gather these from prospects and customers, so if you aren’t already generating traffic to your site, SMS might not be for you just yet. I’d recommend spending weeks or months building up your SMS list first.

Here’s an example of how The Children’s Palace builds a massive SMS subscriber list:

sms marketing sign up

SMS marketing works great during peak shopping seasons when email spam is high, paid advertising is expensive, and consumer attention is low. It’s also a great addition to omnichannel marketing automation campaigns. You only need to write a text once and set up a trigger, then your service provider will send automated texts whenever it goes off. 

SMS is also not a saturated channel yet, so it still effectively cuts through the noise.

5 SMS marketing best practices

1. Get permission

Text messaging will always be a valuable marketing tool—as long as you get permission before sending messages. If a prospect or customer doesn’t give you consent to text them, you could face legal problems. And texting without permission feels spammy—not a good look for your company. 

Don’t upload a list of phone numbers or contacts manually and start sending stuff. You need to get permission from them first. People forget when they opt-in to lists all the time, so make sure you keep a record of opt-in agreements. 

2. Make it easy to opt out

More than any other channel, SMS marketing requires buyer trust. You do this by making it easy for customers to opt in and opt out of your SMS list. 

Yes, you’ll likely lose some subscribers, but those that remain on your list are there because they really want to see your message, not because it’s hard to unsubscribe. Another way you can put your customer in control is having them text your business first to join. Postscript in particular has a nice feature where your customers text you to confirm their subscription.

3. Seek to inform, rarely to promote

Since it’s easy to opt out of promotional SMS messages, you want to be incredibly considerate of your buyers’ inboxes. As a rule of thumb, most of your messages should be related to an order, from status to asking for feedback. These are always useful. Promotional messages should be few and far between, no more than once a week, in my opinion.

4. Make it conversational (sometimes)

The beauty of SMS is that it’s inherently conversational in nature. SMS is all about back and forth dialogue, and marketing through SMS is no different. 

This makes SMS a great way to generate reviews and product feedback directly from your customers. In our business, we’ll send a text asking for their opinion on future product lines. This type of engagement is what leads them to get excited by your text messages. SMS can be a push channel as well as a strong pull channel.

5. Keep context in mind

When designing SMS marketing campaigns, resist the urge to send random messages to subscribers. While you might think an open is great, unsolicited messages are not necessarily best performers. Contextually relevant texts are much more likely to get a click-through, which can mean higher conversion rates. 

For example, if you have a promoted event on Friday night, send a text Friday afternoon. If you want to run a bar special, send your message at 3 or 4 p.m. on a workday versus 8 a.m. Keep it simple—you’ll avoid getting pinged as spam, and you’ll see better results. 

9 examples of good SMS marketing messages

Now that we’ve covered the basics, let’s look at some examples to inspire your SMS marketing strategy

1. The Flash Sale message

sms flash sale message

Who wouldn’t want to receive these from your favorite brands? A short and snappy SMS is a great way to promote one-off flash sales or major promotions.

2. The Hype-Up text

hype text

Don’t launch a flash sale without some hype. A text a few days earlier makes a big difference in conversion. Many people like to think about their purchases ahead of time, so it's wise to give your favorite customers a heads up before your sale is live.

3. The Feedback message

feedback text

Thanks to its conversational commerce nature, SMS is great for striking engaging conversations with your customers. For example, when we come up with new product ideas, we might send an SMS to our customers, asking for their opinion. If they reply, we’ll have engaging 1:1 discussions. Not only does this bring our customers into our process, but they’re far more likely to buy the product when it’s out.

4. The Back-in-Stock message

back in stock sms

This message informs customers about sold out inventory. It’s a gentle yet effective way to re-engage past visitors. Combine with a free shipping minimum or other tactics to increase your average order value. Transactional messages are impactful and simple to automate. 

5. The Giveaway message

If you want to get more leads from your SMS marketing efforts, host a text-to-win giveaway or contest. These types of lead generation strategies work because they expand your customer base without any effort on your part.

giveaway text

One study found that 46% of people will share contests without any extra incentive. However, if they can get more chances to win by obtaining new participants, the study showed that 99% of participants would share such a contest.

You can set up a giveaway quickly across your current marketing channels. Just add your 10-digit number or shortcode to any of the following:

  • Ads (print and digital)
  • Social media accounts
  • Product packages
  • Webinars
  • Blogs or feature articles
  • Landing pages on your website
  • In-store signage 

When a subscriber signs up for your giveaway, they automatically become subscribers whom you can then reach with future campaigns.

6. The BFCM message

blume sms marketing
Photo courtesy of: Fantastic Texts

Automate sending date-triggered messages to customers when they matter most—such as during the Black Friday Cyber Monday shopping season. These time-sensitive campaigns encourage receivers to act fast before the sale is over. 

7. The Welcome message 

welcome message
Photo courtesy of: Fantastic Texts

Whenever someone signs up for your list, you can send them a series of SMS texts to welcome them, tell them about your products, or give them a coupon. 

With 68% of people saying they would join a company SMS list if they received an instant coupon, an instant coupon is a great way to grow your subscriber list. A welcome promo code can also encourage sales. 

8. The Abandoned Cart message

abandoned cart email
Photo courtesy of: Fantastic Texts

An abandoned cart SMS is sent to people who added products to their cart but did not complete the purchase. You can use SMS to follow up with abandoners and encourage sales, and the same tactics work for email.

Since people are more likely to see an SMS push notification than to notice an email in a crowded inbox, abandoned cart SMS messages can lead to higher click-through rates and sales. 

9. The Cross/Upsell message

crosssell/upsell message
Photo courtesy of: Fantastic Texts

Strategic upselling and cross-selling can improve your average order value and customer lifetime value. It involves sending recommendations to customers based on their past purchases. It’s a common tactic in email marketing you can easily replicate through text too. 

Benefits of SMS marketing 

1. High engagement rates

Nearly 96% of marketers using SMS marketing say it earned them more revenue. The same report shows that, on average, ecommerce marketers generated around $71 for every dollar spent on text message marketing. 

At Bushbalm, we’ve been using SMS marketing for over a year now and have some interesting comparison data. With our automated “welcome series” of messages, we see click-through rates of over 50%. Not open rates—click-through rates. In comparison, we typically see 25% open rates with our marketing emails and only 2% click-through rates.

Deliverability issues are virtually non-existent. Since SMS marketing requires customers to opt in, your list will only include customers who want to hear from you. 

Since SMS marketing requires customers to opt in, your list will only include customers who want to hear from you. 

2. Easy to write

Anyone who’s ever written a mass email to customers knows the painstaking efforts required to craft the perfect subject line to get that open rate, and the perfect copy that gets people clicking through. 

Since the SMS window is small on a mobile device, you’re only writing a couple lines. And forget about design—a little emoji or GIF action is all you need to make your message pop. 

A little emoji goes a long way.

3. Strengthen customer relationships

Above all, I’ve found that SMS helps us build more personal, loyal relationships with our customers. Texts are inherently easier to respond to, encouraging actual 1:1 dialogue. The average response rate for SMS is 45%, compared to email at 6%.

Our team has set up SMS to not only send bulk SMS messages, but to engage with customers directly in a success and support capacity. 

Messaging is no longer a one-way street. Your customers expect to hear back from you quickly and want the option to engage in conversation. This two-way conversation goes far beyond traditional customer service. You can also use SMS Live Chat to:

  • Learn more about customers to recommend relevant products
  • Upsell and cross-sell to increase average order value
  • Guide customers to related products if one is out of stock
  • Help customers make a payment 

4. Customers prefer SMS communication

The instantaneous and personal feel of SMS marketing makes it attractive for large and small businesses—but they aren’t the only ones. Nearly 58% of consumers want to receive information through text, according to insights from Attentive. They also statistically open texts and click through in record-high numbers compared to other marketing channels.

SMS marketing software

For Shopify store owners, getting started with SMS marketing is as easy as downloading an app, which all have built-in compliance. You’ll find many SMS marketing platforms in our App Store, but I want to highlight three I’ve personally tried:

  1. Postscript. In my opinion, the best integration for Shopify stores. Easy to use and integrate. You can easily build automated workflows for personalized communications or mass texts. Pricing varies by usage. This is what I use. 
  2. SMSBump. Another great SMS marketing service used by lots of Shopify and Shopify Plus customers.
  3. Attentive. Ideal for bigger brands with hundreds of thousands of subscribers. Counts Sephora, Coach, and Williams-Sonoma as customers. 

Using text message marketing in your ecommerce store

Many online marketers steer away from SMS marketing because they assume it’s expensive and intrusive. Not so. If you apply the principles above, you’ll cut through the noise, increase your conversion rates and improve customer loyalty in the process. Happy selling!

Illustration by Pete Ryan

SMS marketing FAQ

Is SMS marketing legal?

Yes, SMS marketing is legal if you obtain expressed written consent from consumers before sending them marketing texts. SMS marketing is regulated under US law and marketers must follow codes of practice enacted under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) and CAN-SPAM Act.

What are the types of SMS marketing?

  • Promotional deals and discounts
  • Coupons
  • Flash sales
  • Text-to-win competitions
  • Loyalty programs
  • Product drop alerts

How do I start SMS marketing?

The first step in SMS marketing is to build a list of phone numbers that have given consent to receive promotional messages.

Why is SMS marketing effective?

  • Customers prefer SMS interactions.
  • It’s easy to write texts.
  • It’s easy to use SMS marketing software.
  • It can strengthen customer relationships.
  • SMS has high engagement rates.