Consumers aligned on one key theme this year: they wanted convenient experiences that would meet them where they are. And the brands that responded will continue to thrive in the new year.
Around this time last year, we sat down to write about what we thought 2021 might look like for the retail and e-commerce space. We bet that the year would be defined by maturing text messaging strategies, community-building initiatives through SMS, and two-way conversational commerce. Now, we’re revisiting our predictions to see what we got right—and what no one saw coming.
While we were spot on with many of the predictions we made, there were a few things that our crystal ball left out—including privacy changes, long-term supply chain issues, and the rise of hybrid shopping.
What we got right: brands sending two-way, conversational texts to build loyalty and help minimize the friction around checkout, customer service, and more
Most of us use text messaging every day to talk to our friends and family. We react and reply to their messages. We strike up conversations whenever we like. As a channel that’s meant for communicating back and forth, these natural tendencies for real-time conversations don’t disappear when we’re texting with a brand.
As our physical and digital worlds continue to collide, two-way interactions between brands and consumers—not just brands to consumers—are becoming the norm instead of the exception.
When someone engages with a brand, especially through SMS, they expect a highly personalized experience. In addition to building and strengthening relationships between brands and consumers, two-way text conversations offer a new level of convenience.
We should be able to text a brand to ask about their shipping policies, or to check if they have a specific item in your size—and get an answer almost immediately. We’ve made this possible through Attentive Concierge™, which delivers AI and human-assisted text messaging responses.
What no one saw coming: iOS privacy changes
This year, marketers had to shift the way they approached their online marketing—specifically when it came to advertising and email. While Apple’s privacy updates in the iOS 14.5 and iOS 15 releases are great for consumers who want more control over their data (and the companies they share it with), they threw a big wrench into digital marketers’ strategies.
One aspect of the iOS 14.5 update, App Tracking Transparency, prompted iPhone and iPad users to opt out of tracking in apps that monitor their behavior and share that data with third parties. An estimated 96% of Apple users decided to disable tracking once the feature was available—making it more difficult for companies to understand the efficacy of their ads, and reducing their ability to reliably attribute clicks to purchases.
Then, with iOS 15, Apple Mail let users opt in to mail privacy features that masked IP addresses and blocked third parties from tracking email opens and other IP data. And with Hide My Email, Apple users could create a randomized email address when they registered with an app or website. Any email sent to those new addresses were forwarded to a personal email account, but marketers could no longer track users across platforms or access a potential customer’s real email address.
These changes, in addition to Google’s roadmap to eliminate third-party cookies by 2023, have prompted savvy marketers to increasingly rely on owned, one-to-one communication channels based on first-party data (like SMS).
What we got right: e-commerce growth fueling text messaging adoption for brand communications
When shoppers flocked to e-commerce in 2020, we anticipated that their online shopping behaviors would continue into 2021. While many have returned to in-store shopping this year, the industry continued to see growth in online shopping, especially coming from mobile devices.
By the end of 2020, mobile commerce sales had accelerated by 41.4% year-over-year. While growth has slowed this year, it’s clear that consumers have gotten pretty comfortable shopping on their mobile devices. And while many consumers have adopted mobile commerce over the last couple years, much of the growth has come from existing mobile shoppers spending more.
With brands placing more focus on reaching their mobile audience, 2021 was the year we saw text messaging become a “must-have” digital channel, vs. being perceived as a “nice to have.” At Attentive, we’ve seen more than double customer growth over the last few years. And as more brands are offering SMS, more consumers are subscribing.
Brands have responded to this shift by investing in SMS-specific marketing roles. Natasha Zuluaga, Marketing Director, Email & SMS at FragranceNet.com shared some insights with us about what it’s like to adopt an emerging marketing technology like SMS and turn it into a hero channel.
Three years ago, Zuluaga was a one-person marketing team at FragranceNet.com, owning email marketing. Today, they have five people dedicated to email and SMS marketing, including Zuluaga, two email developers, and two marketing coordinators—one dedicated to SMS.
What no one saw coming: shift to hybrid shopping, with increased emphasis on BOPIS and curbside
While many consumers continued to shop online, they’ve returned to stores, too. But they don’t have to choose one or the other. Instead, they’re embracing hybrid shopping—combining the best of online and in-store shopping to create a more convenient and seamless experience.
In the US, BOPIS, or click-and-collect sales, more than doubled in 2020. And eMarketer predicts they will sustain double-digit growth rates through 2024. By the end of this year, consumers are expected to have spent $83.47 billion via click and collect.
According to a 2021 survey conducted by Statista, consumers are citing safety and convenience, saving time, and not paying for shipping as some of their top reasons for using BOPIS and curbside pickup.
Bridging online and in-store experiences with BOPIS is good for brands, too. On top of boosting e-commerce revenue, BOPIS helps you drive additional foot traffic. Once a shopper is in your store, they may look around and end up purchasing additional items. Even brands who were built online—including Glossier and Warby Parker—are investing in physical stores to connect with shoppers IRL. And more traditional brick-and-mortar retailers are investing in e-commerce platforms to give their customers more options to shop exactly how they want to.
What we got right: increased revenue attributed to text message marketing
Last year, we predicted that with more brands and consumers adopting SMS as a marketing channel, we’d see more digital revenue attributed to text message marketing.
In a commissioned study conducted by Forrester Consulting on behalf of Attentive in March 2021, brands who’re already using SMS marketing indicated that 12.8% (on average) of their online revenue was attributed to text messaging. They expect this number to grow to 17.4% over the next two years. Nearly all respondents (95%) have experienced both customer-facing and revenue benefits from including SMS in their marketing strategies.
Take Hollywood Hair Bar, for example. Within just one year of partnering with Attentive, the brand has driven over $1.7 million in revenue from SMS—contributing to a 57x ROI for their text program. But for Hollywood Hair Bar, it’s not just about driving revenue. It’s about building an even stronger relationship with their highly engaged community. Daniel Monte, Director of Email and SMS Marketing at The Snow Agency—Hollywood Hair Bar’s digital marketing partner—said, “Text messaging creates an intimate relationship with subscribers. It builds a sense of trust and loyalty, especially when it’s executed correctly.”
While driving revenue is usually a marketer’s top priority when implementing SMS, having a thoughtful approach can help better engage the subscriber and increase customer lifetime value—ultimately having a positive effect on your bottom line, too.
What no one saw coming: long-term supply chain issues
While we experienced a fair share of supply chain bottlenecks in 2020, many industry experts expected them to be cleared up by the middle of this year. But between delivery delays, ongoing global factory shutdowns, labor shortages, and the infamous Suez Canal blockage in March of this year, many retailers struggled to meet consumer demand and fast shipping expectations in 2021.
Throughout the year, brands had to figure out how to communicate industry-wide shortages and delays with their customers, and they had to be as transparent as possible to keep the trust they’d built.
Just as e-commerce demand began to pick up before the start of peak holiday shopping, consumers really felt the impact of the ongoing supply chain crisis. Adobe reported that the volume of out-of-stock messages rose 250% in October 2021, compared to a pre-pandemic period (Jan 2020)—with two billion out of stock messages sent in October alone.
But now, the chairman of the International Chamber of Shipping believes the worst is over for global supply chains, since retailers have placed a “significant level” of pre-orders, which should help ease shortages. Even so, the brands who’ve realized that dealing with unexpected changes by focusing on foundational marketing skills such as communication and empathy are the ones who will find themselves thriving going into 2022.
What we got right: brands using SMS as a loyalty channel to strengthen their community
For brands that want to improve customer loyalty and strengthen their community of shoppers, SMS has been nothing short of a game-changer. It’s a direct and personal channel that nurtures happy, returning customers—and converts them into lifetime brand loyalists.
We saw more brands in 2021 using SMS to drive repeat purchases, as well as tying it to their loyalty programs.
Thread Wallets included SMS in their marketing strategy when announcing the launch of their loyalty program, The Stitch, hinting at the opportunity to earn rewards with each purchase.
Utz took a similar approach with their SMS channel. To celebrate their 100th anniversary this year, the brand introduced the Utz Centennial Club, an SMS-exclusive club for their snack loyalists.
“We decided to brand our text channel as the Utz Centennial Club and use it to engage our most loyal consumers with exclusive discounts, year supply giveaways, and more,” said Sean Adams, VP of Marketing Communications & E-Commerce at Utz. “From the beginning, we wanted to put our Centennial Club on a pedestal to drive so much value for those subscribers that they want to tell their friends about it.”
We don’t claim to be fortune tellers, but many of these “trends” are increasingly becoming our norm. Consumers will continue to push brands for more personalized experiences—both in their digital and physical worlds. Will text messaging continue to play a starring role in connecting these worlds, and help brands create more seamless shopping experiences? We’re betting on yes.