A furniture shopper sends a text message to Neal’s Furniture after hours on a Sunday to inquire about a product featured on the retailer’s website. The customer receives a prompt auto reply from the store, stating the showroom has closed for the evening but they will return the message as soon as possible.
A Neal’s Furniture sales associate receives notification of the online lead on his cell phone and decides to respond by text within five minutes. The shopper visits the showroom and completes the sale the very next morning.
In a separate sale made the same day, a first-time customer sends a text message to Neal’s Furniture requesting information on the home furnishing retailer’s No Credit Check program after visiting the store’s website. The customer makes a purchase 30 minutes after the text exchange.
These two text message conversations really happened and converted into a quick furniture sale for the local retailer. But this represents just a sample of the 50-100 online leads each sales associate receives per day thanks to an AI-driven website and a chat-to-text tool implemented by Perq for Neal’s Furniture.
“Oftentimes, a customer would be hesitant or perhaps embarrassed to ask for this information in person,” says John Neal Jr., vice president of Neal’s Furniture in Okmulgee, Oklahoma, a small town about 40 miles from Tulsa. “Getting past these initial apprehensions and making the customer feel comfortable could be the difference between making a sale and never having the chance.
“Furniture is an emotional decision, and oftentimes requires careful consideration and planning from the buyer,” Neal continues. “The more comfortable we can make the customer, the more likely we are to earn their business. Hopefully, they have our number saved in their phone alongside their family and friends!”
Texts Get Better Open and Response Rates
Texts are quickly surpassing the success of emails sent by retailers, with many consumers now saying they prefer a company text them instead of call or email. Recent marketing studies estimate that at a 90% open rate, SMS (short message service) performs nearly five times better than B2C emails, which average around a 20% open rate.
We check our smartphones all day long, so it makes sense that text messages get read. What really matters most to retailers and their ROI is the number of leads who actually respond back. According to the marketing studies cited above, text messages sent to customers get seven-and-a-half times more responses than emails, with a 45% response rate for SMS versus 6% for email.
A Consumer Insights Report Perq published last fall found 13.5% of home furnishing shoppers surveyed online prefer text communication over a phone call from a retail sales associate, with only 7.5% choosing telephone as their preferred contact method. Email won like in past years, but as consumers’ inboxes overflow with thousands of promotional emails a year from all kinds of businesses and services, the number of people who prefer email is trending down and the success of texting continues to rise.
“We experience much higher customer interaction through utilizing text messages as opposed to emails and phone calls,” Neal says. “A text message does not demand your attention so it’s naturally less obtrusive than a phone call, but still just as personal. The customer can respond if and when they decide to.”
Text messaging makes it easy for Neal Furniture sales associates to track past conversations and reference as needed. It also gives them a way to send pictures, receipts, quotes, reviews, emojis and converse with customers.
“All of which can be sent to the device the customer uses all day and lives in their pockets!” Neal says. “Why wouldn’t that be the way businesses talk to customers?”
Most Consumers Prefer Text Messages
It’s suddenly common to receive appointment reminders from your doctor and hairstylist by text and shipping updates or coupons from businesses you’ve bought from before. How did it catch on so fast? Turns out, the majority of consumers really like the approach.
“I love, love, love when companies communicate by text,” says Sara Westrich, a travel agency owner who recently purchased a couch for her family’s new home. While that furniture retailer didn’t use text messaging, she says she wishes they had utilized that level of personal communication while she waited for three months to get the furniture delivered after an internal ordering mishap (wrong L shape). Instead, she spent her time repeatedly calling the store to get updates. In her business, she frequently uses text to communicate with clients and leads.
Recent business college graduate Nichole Marchand says she also likes it when retailers send her coupons and incentives by text. She regularly gets messages from a wide variety of businesses, like fast food coupons and reminders for an upcoming salon appointment. Westrich says Honda and Safelite were the last two companies that sent her texts.
“As a whole, text message conversations for follow ups and initial conversions have been received by our customers and sales staff as a benefit, if not a preferred method,” Neal says. “We definitely get the ‘Never text me again!’ customer but that is few and far between. We don’t do cold texts, meaning the customer either initiated the conversation or gave their contact information to a sales associate at some point.”
We experience much higher customer interaction through utilizing text messages as opposed to emails and phone calls. – John Neal Jr., Neal’s Furniture.
Shannon Anderson, owner of a food truck business and a busy mom to little ones, may be a millennial but she’s one of those few who hates receiving texts from a business. “I might be weird, but I hate it when companies text me,” Anderson says. “I find it lazy and unprofessional. Shipping updates and coupons I’m OK with, but if you need to say something for business, you should pick up the phone and call that person.”
Different Times Call for Different Marketing Measures
No one can deny that the way our society communicates and gathers information has changed exponentially over the past several years. Businesses must try new digital marketing tactics to keep up with consumers’ evolving communication practices.
“You have to communicate on their terms and be willing to talk to them how they prefer,” says Justin Bowen, web content manager at The Great American Home Store. The furniture retailer is currently working on implementing a new texting system to go along with their automated email lead nurture and marketing cloud solutions.
“A lot of people think they should be doing what was in vogue a few years ago, but the rules of the game are changing,” Bowen says. “Social doesn’t matter like it did. Facebook ads are harder to do right.
He adds that SMS is where email was about 20 years ago—just starting to catch on as a marketing platform—and no one knows for sure what it’s fully capable of doing to the retail marketplace. With so many companies already texting, the marketing method will eventually become as saturated as email and lose some of its effectiveness.
“The time is to start now, not later,” Bowen says. “People already prefer it, but most of the competition isn’t doing it, which presents a prime opportunity.”
Perq, a marketing technology company founded in 2001, empowers businesses and the online consumer experience through innovative solutions powered by artificial intelligence. More than 1,000 businesses in the home furnishings, auto retailing and multifamily industries leverage Perq’s Marketing Cloud and technology to give them more visibility into their digital marketing efforts and sales.