SMS Strategies

How to Choose an SMS Provider For Your Retail, E-Commerce, or DTC Brand

Published
Aug 2, 2021
Written by
Marissa Sanford
Marissa is a Senior Manager on the Content Marketing team. She spends her logged off hours walking her two dogs, doing DIY manicures, and drinking way more coffee than necessary.

Everything you should look for when evaluating an SMS provider to help you scale a list of subscribers, drive revenue, and build loyalty.

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A lot of brands struggle with reaching their customers with relevant messages across channels. That’s why over 60% of brands are already using SMS marketing, citing strong customer engagement and improved ROI as the primary benefits. 

As e-commerce in the US continues to gain steam, more brands are adopting a sophisticated approach to SMS marketing to drive revenue, build loyalty, and increase retention.

Whether you're looking to start fresh, or want to know if you're working with the right vendor, you'll want to focus on finding an experienced SMS partner that integrates with your marketing tech stack vs. a one-size-fits-all marketing solution that may have gaps when it comes to SMS expertise, functionality, deliverability, and compliance.

Choosing a partner that not only meets your needs today, but can continue to keep pace with you, your tech stack, and regulations is critical. Use this post as your guide before you sign on the dotted line.

If your brand’s website is powered by Shopify, explore our Complete SMS Marketing Guide for Shopify Merchants.

1. Easy set-up & launch

More often than not, the difference between a successful program and one that flops is a smooth rollout. The sooner you get started, the sooner you can send messages to shoppers and start driving more revenue. 

Make sure nothing stands in the way of your ability to grow your subscriber list, send and schedule messages, create targeted segments, analyze the performance of your program, and more. Consider how much guidance you’ll receive from your SMS partner, and if they offer training and learning opportunities that will help you boost your strategy (and revenue!).

Explore Attentive’s Playbook and learn how our team will help you quickly get started, including:

  • Guidance at every step of the way, from scaling and launching your program, to setting revenue goals.
  • Training resources, best practices, and guidelines on important topics like content, compliance, list growth tactics, and send time tips. 
  • Texts We Love, our SMS gallery featuring hundreds of top-performing text messaging examples sent by our customers.
We were already running text messaging campaigns, but we were looking for a better platform. I liked Attentive’s people, product, and capabilities, so it was a no brainer for us. Getting started was simple and only took about a week—and we grew the channel quickly, getting about 1,500 new subscribers per day.

- Julian Quintaes, CEO, PAWZ

You should also prioritize an SMS provider that focuses on reliable deliverability. Make sure your provider has close relationships with carriers so they can quickly advise on any deliverability issues the carriers are experiencing (or any updates they’re making) and provide direction on how to resolve the issues.

2. Guidance on compliance

The SMS industry is held to high compliance standards, so staying compliant with SMS regulations is crucial. 

In the United States, you must be compliant with the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA), and the guidelines of the Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association (CTIA). If you don’t comply with the guidelines, it can lead to costly results including consumer complaints, suspension of your short code, and even lawsuits. 

It may sound intimidating to keep up with all the SMS-specific regulations, but don’t let it stop you from getting started with this marketing channel. The right vendor should be able to provide you with guidance and peace of mind. Make sure that they have the expertise to help you navigate the laws so you can remain compliant at every step.

At a high level, SMS compliance requirements include the following:

  • Your subscriber must explicitly opt-in for SMS marketing, and it has to be a separate opt-in from email marketing. 
  • You must explain to potential subscribers what types of messages they’ll receive and clearly state how they can opt out. 
  • You must respect opt-out requests. 
  • You can’t send text messages between 9pm and 8am in the recipients’ time zone under federal rules—these are considered “quiet hours.”

Your SMS provider should also help you determine the right phone number for your business, whether that’s a dedicated 5- or 6-digit short code, a toll-free number, or an A2P 10-digit long code (10DLC). Avoid any provider that’s using standard P2P 10-digit phone numbers—known as long codes—as they’re no longer permitted for sending marketing messages, according to US cellular carriers.

For SMS opt-ins, we didn’t want to take any risks with compliance. Attentive was a big help in this regard. TCPA and CTIA compliance is built-in, and they went above and beyond to ensure that industry best practices were being followed.

– Alexander Sebelen, Senior Manager - E-Commerce & Digital, Frederic Fekkai

3. Integrations that connect with your tech stack

While SMS is a top performance marketing channel on its own, it can become even more powerful when integrated with your existing tech stack. The data you collect from e-commerce platforms, ESPs, CDPs, CRMs, and other technologies lets you centralize and access valuable customer details so your brand can send more relevant text messages and increase revenue.

Integrations also help amplify your SMS marketing efforts—and ensure consistency with your other marketing channels, like email—so you can deliver more personalized subscriber experiences.

We believe in personalized customer experiences—both in our SHEFIT products and in our marketing, so it’s incredibly important for us to be able to utilize data between our martech systems. That personalization enables us to drive more revenue per message we send. 

– Ezra Chasser, Senior Director of Digital, SHEFIT

Think about your brand’s other important marketing channels—such as email or your website—and how you might be able to use customer data to improve your text messaging results. Then, make sure your SMS vendor lets you easily integrate with those channels. For example, Attentive has advanced integrations with select ESP partners to allow for easy orchestration across email and SMS, in addition to other marketing technologies.

4. List growth tools

A healthy subscriber base is key to the success of your text messaging program. From converting website traffic into subscriber growth, to optimizing how people join your SMS subscriber list (whether online or offline), your text message marketing partner should offer a robust suite of list growth tools and take the manual work out of opting in subscribers. Without this, you risk significantly limiting your SMS list growth rate. 

At a minimum, make sure your SMS provider offers the following list growth strategies. Bonus points if they also allow you to grow your list across social media, dedicated landing pages, and more.

  • Convert on-site visitors: Engage your website visitors with a sign-up unit that’s displayed across your mobile and desktop websites, and encourage them to opt in to get text message marketing updates from your brand.
  • Scale email and SMS subscribers simultaneously: You’re likely already collecting email sign-ups on your website, so working with a partner that can easily add SMS to your existing flow is crucial for growing both lists. When evaluating SMS vendors, make sure they allow you to build your email subscriber list, too—and determine if their functionality is manual or automated. 
  • Drive offline sign-ups with Text-to-Join: In addition to driving subscriber sign-ups across your digital channels—including email, social media, and your website—don’t forget about using Text-to-Join options for in-store signage, checkout kiosks, packaging, physical mailers, outdoor advertising, business cards, receipts, event collateral, and more.

You should also make sure you have the flexibility to control what your sign-up units look like and where/when to show them

  • Design high-performing sign-up units that match the look and feel of your website. Our platform’s design editor lets you edit and customize your sign-up units. And the Attentive team can advise on strategies for optimizing your design for your brand’s unique needs.
  • Optimize your onsite experience by controlling when and where you display your sign-units. Our display rules include a Pop-Up Timer, Scroll Delay, and Exit Intent. 
  • Incentivize sign-ups by including coupons or offers. Use our auto-apply URLs, which sends the subscriber to your site with the discount code already applied, so that they don't need to copy and paste a code at checkout. 

Attentive offers 24 different types of sign-up units used by thousands of brands—driving over 200 million sign-ups to date. Plus, our sign-up units are designed with Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and TCPA compliance in mind. 

It was a very easy process—we provided Attentive with a few different options of visual content, and they produced an incredible pop-up to start capturing new text messaging subscribers immediately.

- Chad Ross, Founder and CEO, Dorsal Bracelets

5. Sophisticated campaign message-sending workflows

Text messaging is another opportunity to engage, educate, and offer value to your shoppers. SMS doesn’t just increase incremental revenue—it’s a powerful channel for building brand loyalty, too.

Your SMS provider should allow you to send revenue-generating one-time campaigns that showcase your product, promotions, and more. You should also be able to segment your campaign messages, so your text messages can be easily targeted for any marketing initiative—whether that’s retention, awareness, or acquisition.

We also recommend checking for testing and optimization capabilities within your text message campaigns. You should be able to A/B test individual messages to find the copy, images, and timing that resonate most with your audience. You should also be able to see performance in real time and use historical A/B test results to improve future messages.

The great thing about Attentive is that we can be flexible with A/B testing our segmentation and messages—and pivot depending on what we see has the most impact. 

– Chip Malt, CEO & Co-Founder, Made In Cookware

6. Media options including SMS, MMS, and video

“Text” messaging is a bit of a misnomer now, as multimedia options for the channel have come a long way. Our recent survey found that 51.1% of consumers would be more likely to make a purchase if they received a text that included a GIF, image, or video. Only 15.9% indicated they prefer plain text messages with no media.

Consumers expect a polished and engaging experience—complete with eye-catching images and personalized information. Make sure your SMS partner allows you to send a variety of messages. While all platforms should have plain SMS capabilities, you’ll also want to verify you can send text messages that include images, GIFs, or videos.

Your provider should also have A/B testing capabilities that let you understand how your subscribers are engaging with different types of messages—and whether they prefer SMS or MMS—to ensure you’re sending them the content they want. Your provider’s platform should allow you to easily understand which message variation was the most effective, and why.

7. Personalized triggered messages that engage subscribers across the lifecycle

Triggered messages let you automatically drive revenue based on real-time behavioral data from your subscribers, like signing up for your text messaging program, abandoning their online shopping cart, or making a purchase. 

You’ll want to make sure your SMS partner has built out multiple types of triggered messaging flows, including the examples below. These types of messages help ensure you reach your subscribers at the right time with personalized content. Plus, once these messages are set up, they’ll send automatically.

  • Welcome messages: It’s important that you’re able to start your text messaging relationship with new subscribers by sending a friendly hello, and sharing helpful information about your brand to establish a lasting relationship.
  • Browse abandonment reminders: If someone browsed a specific product, but left your website before adding it to their cart, this type of message will help you encourage them to head back to your site to view the product they browsed—making it easy for them to complete their purchase.
  • Cart abandonment reminders: If shoppers leave items in their digital shopping cart, you should be able to send a triggered abandoned cart text message. This type of automated reminder helps recover otherwise lost revenue. 
  • Post-purchase messages: To keep past purchases interested in your brand and ensure you stay top-of-mind even after they complete their purchase, you’ll want to make sure you can send a post-purchase message. 
  • Transactional updates: We know the worst part of online shopping is the waiting time between clicking “Buy” and receiving your order. Make sure you can give your customers peace of mind by sending transactional text messages, including order confirmations and shipment notifications.

8. Real-time, two-way conversations

Text messaging is a personal, always-on channel that's built for back-and-forth conversations. Reaching your subscribers through two-way conversations increases engagement and deepens brand loyalty while providing your brand with valuable data. Make sure the SMS vendor you’re evaluating gives you the ability to send two-way messages that more effectively engage subscribers through back-and-forth interaction (powered by AI, or human agents) and keyword-based experiences—vs. messages that are only one-way. You should also be able to integrate your SMS channel with your customer service help desk, so your team can quickly respond to customer inquiries via text messaging.

Sending conversational messages can also be effective for asking questions and gathering more information about your subscribers. You’ll build a more robust profile of their preferences and behaviors—like the product categories they’re interested in or their print/color preferences—so you can send more personalized messages that drive conversions. 

For example, Attentive customer Groove Life used our Two-Way Journeys to launch a fun and engaging keyword-driven scavenger hunt for St. Patrick’s Day that engaged new subscribers and re-engaged existing subscribers. These messages helped subscribers learn about the brand and products while rewarding them with a unique offer at the end of the scavenger hunt.

9. Personalization and targeting tools

Personalizing your text messages is critical to delivering impactful content that resonates with your subscribers. Leading SMS solutions should provide out-of-the-box targeting capabilities and integrate seamlessly with your existing marketing technology stack. This will let you create more advanced segmentation to target audiences based on anything and everything you know about your shopper. At a minimum, your SMS provider should make it easy to set up the following segments:

  • Purchase history: Create segments based on purchase history, using transactional data to develop profiles for subscribers who either have or haven’t made a purchase over a certain time period.
  • Past text message engagement: Create segments based on recent message engagement. How you define “engaged” should be specific to your brand and goals, but a common benchmark is any subscriber who’s clicked on at least one text message from your brand within two to four weeks.
  • Location: Create segments based on geographic location. This is especially useful for targeting weather-related merchandise or location-specific events, such as promoting new swimwear items to subscribers in warmer climates or inviting subscribers in specific zip codes to attend new store openings.
  • Shopping behaviors: Find your highest intent audiences by identifying which subscribers have viewed a product or added it to their cart without purchasing.
  • “VIPs”: Use subscriber data to define and identify your best customers, and develop messaging that will build long-term loyalty and maximize revenue growth. Create threshold segments that subscribers can “graduate” into, such as VIPs who have spent a certain amount of money with your brand over a specific time period.

10. Reporting and analytics

Continually analyzing and optimizing SMS marketing performance ensures you’ll drive the best results and improve your program over the long term. By understanding what’s working with your SMS program (and why), you can implement learnings to refine your strategy.

When evaluating SMS vendors, make sure you’re able to set up custom reports, pull ad-hoc reports, and format reports to meet your business needs. Understanding how your SMS channel is performing shouldn’t feel like embarking on a research project.

Key reports for your SMS channel should include:

  1. Subscriber growth
  2. Message engagement & opt-out reporting
  3. Revenue attribution (on both a full program and individual message level)

Attentive offers many different types of pre-built reports that analyze your data and give you the transparency to understand how your campaigns are performing. You can generate an instantaneous report or schedule to receive a recurring one. This is also helpful when sharing insights about your SMS program with key marketing stakeholders.

Prioritize a “more than software” platform. Look for a true partner that will keep your business goals front and center—one that listens to your feedback and focuses on building smarter and more efficient tools for you

Attentive drives an average of 18.5% of total online revenue for e-commerce brands. Learn more about why thousands of brands choose Attentive as their #1 SMS marketing solution, and see what we can do for you. Try us for free.

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