2022 was all about convenience and conversations. For the third year in a row, we're revisiting our marketing predictions and sharing our learnings with you.
At the start of the year, we bet that convenience would be the driving force behind consumer purchase decisions in 2022. We predicted that consumers would continue to seek out easy, relevant experiences, putting conversational messaging and sophisticated hybrid strategies at the top of marketers’ plans.
Of course, we're not fortune tellers, and times are dynamic. So a few of our predictions about experimental channels—including virtual reality and live stream shopping—were deprioritized. That said, many of our predictions aligned with brands' top goals. Marketers ultimately prioritized increasing customer retention, shifting their budget and time towards loyalty-building channels and convenient experiences.
Now, we’re revisiting our 2022 predictions to understand consumers’ headspace heading into the new year.
What we got right: SMS went mainstream
Last March, we surveyed 5,000 consumers to discover how they were shopping, how they were interacting with brands, and what made them loyal to their favorites. 81.2% of them told us they’ve opted in to at least one brand’s text message marketing program, a 26% increase from 2020. Throughout the year, consumer adoption of SMS only picked up steam. This Cyber Week alone, over 12.7 million new consumers signed up for brands’ SMS channels—a 49% jump year-over-year.
We predicted that as marketers prioritized loyalty, SMS would emerge as a key retention channel. This boom in consumer adoption has proven that consumers are getting value out of the channel. Consumers are using SMS to be the first to know about new products and offers, get personalized recommendations, and get support from brands quickly and easily.
Marketers' investment in the channel continues to pay off—SMS has proven to be a key retention channel that consumers like using. They’re engaging with brands throughout the entire customer journey (and staying engaged as they make their second, third, and fourth purchases).
How to implement this learning in 2023: If you're working with limited resources, automation will be key to helping you regularly engage your subscribers. Audit your existing SMS journeys—including your welcome flow, cart and browse abandonment reminders, and post-purchase flow—to understand where you’re already engaging shoppers and identify any gaps you can fill. Consider adding steps to your post-purchase journey to nurture brand loyalists, like inviting them to sign up for your rewards program or leave a review on social media.
What we got right: Conversational commerce raised shoppers’ expectations for personalization and convenience
This year, shoppers got chatty, engaging in two-way conversations with brands throughout the customer lifecycle. From product discovery to post-purchase education, two-way messaging helped shoppers personalize their interactions on the fly. If they’re looking for new bedding, they’re able to tell brands their fabric, weight, and color preferences, and receive personalized recommendations in real time.
These conversations help brands collect valuable zero- and first-party data, meaning they have compliant, accurate data to personalize future interactions with. If you know your shopper is interested in blue linen sheets, you can recommend complementary items, such as a cooling duvet, neutral-toned throw pillows, and more. This level of personalization ultimately serves convenience—brands are reducing the amount of work shoppers have to do to find, purchase, and get the most out of items.
In 2022, conversational commerce became more sophisticated to meet shoppers’ need for easy, relevant conversations. Shoppers wanted to be able to ask questions and get recommendations in real time. Attentive Concierge™ helps brands do just that. They can pair triggered and human-powered messaging to talk to consumers when and where they want.
Having these conversations via SMS adds another layer of convenience. Shoppers don’t need to jump between devices or worry about accidentally closing out a support window. And because they’re engaging with humans, they feel heard.
At Thread, our inaugural conference for conversational commerce, brands shared just how important that is to building long-term loyalty. “SMS is our most strategic way of curating the conversational commerce experience for our shopper,” shared NJ Falk, Managing Partner at APL. “It’s the highest form of personalization and has created an ongoing dialogue with our customers. They become loyal brand advocates because they feel heard by APL.”
How to implement this learning in 2023: There’s an opportunity to remove another layer of friction from the shopping journey next year. Text-to-Buy lets shoppers make purchases directly within a conversation, saving them the hassle of opening another window to add an item to their cart and complete their checkout.
What we got right: Retention became marketers’ top priority
After the e-commerce boom throughout 2020 and 2021, we predicted that marketers would invest in retention to keep those new customers engaged. What nobody saw coming was just how important retention would become.
Marketers adapted quickly, shifting their focus to doing more with less. Because it’s much cheaper to convert an existing customer compared to acquiring a new one, retention fits the bill.
Many marketers have begun integrating their loyalty and SMS marketing programs to make it as easy as possible for shoppers to earn rewards. This strategy also helped brands nurture shoppers across channels. Brands could encourage new subscribers to sign up for rewards programs, and send targeted reminders to loyal customers to claim their perks.
For example: Uncommon Goods knew that shoppers who were subscribed to both their loyalty and SMS programs were probably major brand loyalists. The brand sent those subscribers a VIP invitation to join their ambassador program to earn extra rewards.
The shifting data privacy landscape also made retention a valuable investment. At the beginning of the year, many marketers were asking, “Is zero-party data even real?” Now, zero- and first-party data are core pillars of marketers’ loyalty strategies. These types of data are helping brands create more personalized experiences, whether it’s sending nudges based on consumers’ behaviors, tailoring recommendations and offers to subscribers’ preferences, or rewarding VIPs.
How to implement this learning in 2023: Next year will be all about getting strategic in how you collect and use first- and zero-party data. More isn’t more, in this case. Identify a few key data points you can immediately use to personalize your messages, such as personal style or fit preference. Then automate the way you collect and use it. For example: Ask shoppers what their favorite product categories are in your welcome email or SMS journey. If they haven’t made a purchase within a few days of signing up, send a follow-up message sharing recommendations based on their preferences.
What we got right: Consumers want to shop online and in-store
Shoppers returned to stores in 2022, but they didn’t abandon their e-commerce habits to do so. 89% of consumers told us they participate in hybrid shopping at least some of the time, picking their favorite elements from each experience.
Shoppers blurred the lines between in-store and online shopping, scrolling on TikTok and Instagram for inspiration and visiting stores to discover new products. They bought items online to have delivered to their doorstep, placed buy online, pick up in-store (BOPIS) orders, and browsed aisles to get items right away. Shoppers’ approach to hybrid shopping wasn’t a matter of either/or—it was a matter of yes, and.
Brands adjusted their understanding of the purpose of retail to meet this new consumer mindset. Physical locations were no longer a point of sale or fulfillment center, but an important way that consumers experience brands.
Some brands launched thoughtful pop-ups and collaborations to create an initial retail footprint. Others invested in experiential services—including personal shopping, product consultations, and even ear piercing—to draw shoppers into stores. Finally, DTC brands who built their business online established permanent retail locations to acquire a new set of customers.
How to implement this learning in 2023: Think about how you can easily connect the dots between your online and in-store experiences for shoppers. For example: If your brand is known for beautifully curated displays or catalogs, consider adding a landing page to your website with the same items and complementary imagery. Consider adding a QR code to the display linking to the landing page. You’ll give consumers the chance to decide how they want to shop, and increase the chance they’ll add more items to their cart.
What no one could have predicted: Marketers shifted their priorities to adapt to economic headwinds
Throughout the year, inflation played an outsized role in consumers' day-to-day lives. At the same time, brands were tasked with clearing out excess inventory after years of supply chain delays. Brands adapted their strategies to meet shoppers’ shifting needs and future-proof their business for a prolonged economic downturn. Educating subscribers about products and their brand became key to making shoppers feel like they were getting the most bang for their buck and selling excess inventory.
For the most part, this meant that marketers put experimental plays (including virtual reality and live streaming) on the back burner in favor of getting creative with proven acquisition and retention strategies. For example: Rather than launch virtual fitting rooms, brands invested in existing technologies to better educate shoppers about fit (whether through on-site fit scales or two-way conversations).
Marketers used their time and resources to prioritize improving their multi-channel strategies, optimizing their existing tech stack, and increasing automation. Doing so let them prioritize high-impact strategies and campaigns.
That doesn’t mean these channels are going away. While they’re very much still in their infancy, major players, including TikTok and Amazon, are developing new use cases. As these technologies become less of a technical investment, marketers will have more of an opportunity to strategically experiment with them.
How to implement this learning in 2023: Optimization will be your best friend, especially when it comes to triggered messaging flows. By making the most of your existing programs (and letting them do the heavy lifting for you), you’ll have the room to get creative with your big bets.
These trends will continue to play out in the new year. Perhaps the most interesting trend to watch will be consumers looking for more value. The brands that are the best at delivering value to them across channels will end up being winners in 2023.