December 29, 2008, 12:00 AM

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“I was a little nervous at first, thinking customers probably didn’t really know what they signed up for, but text messaging has definitely proven to add big numbers to both the top line and bottom line,” says chief operating officer Anand Shah. “The No. 1 factor that tipped the scale in favor of text messaging was our niche demographic: They are early adopters and influencers, not just in apparel but in other walks of life. They live and breathe mobile.”

Important reminders

While offers special promotions for its mobile customers, Inc. uses text messages to market in a different fashion, though with the same goal: staying close to customers while increasing sales. launched a reminder service that warns customers of impending gift-giving days. Customers can join the service by sending a text message to the retailer’s short code. “We’ll remind you in advance of such things as Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, and then direct you to our m-commerce site using the text message,” explains Vibhav Prasad, senior director of web merchandising.

Vans Inc. uses text messages in a similar way. Its marketing focus is not on offering promotions but on providing a service.

The shoemaker has a devoted following of fans who connect the crazily designed footwear with a variety of affinities, including skateboarding, surfing, snow sports, music and art, all of which it covers in-depth on its web site. It unveiled last year a service where fans can sign up online to receive via text message regular updates on topics and events in these and other areas-along with Vans shoe news.

“We’re notifying customers it’s time for a visit to,” says Chris Overholser, a senior communications manager who works in lifestyle marketing at Vans.

Promos in the sky

Showing there are few limits to how text messages can be used in marketing, Meijer Inc. used a wildly different approach for a special promotion.

Near Halloween, Meijer beamed images of the Headless Horseman onto the sides of buildings and in the night sky in three major U.S. cities, telling people below to send a text message saying “He rides” to Meijer’s short code to receive a reply text message containing a special code for $10 off a $74 online purchase and enter to win a $1,000 gift certificate to the mass merchant.

Meijer says the campaign greatly increased brand awareness, and not just through the event itself but also through significant local and national media coverage it attracted.

Meijer worked with mobile marketing vendor SmartReply Inc. on the effort, as well as creative and other firms including BlueWater Technologies, DeVito/Verdi, Harvest Music+Sound Design, Integra, SpringThrough and Storytelling Pictures.

“When it comes to creating a campaign without a media spend you are taking a gamble that your content is compelling enough to spread and become consumed,” a Meijer spokesman says. “We succeeded by creating more traction than initially planned.”

In addition to receiving text messages with special codes that can be entered during checkout on an e-commerce site, coupons to be used in bricks-and-mortar stores as well as online are a popular text message marketing approach.

Last year mobile technology vendor Mobile Dialog Inc. added more retail clients to its roster. Its site offers coupons via text messages from merchants, including the Internet Retailer Top 500’s CVS Corp.,, Gaiam Inc., Inc. and Walgreen Co. Consumers create an account at They redeem text message coupons using promotional codes. In addition to the promotional code, mobile coupons include the address and phone number of the nearest store, as well as a hyperlink to the retailer’s web site.

Texting family and friends

American Eagle Outfitters Inc. also is getting into the text message marketing scene. In November it began building on an already successful texting initiative by gathering mobile phone numbers through e-mail campaigns and in stores, informing customers they could receive special promotions through text messages.

In 30 days it gathered tens of thousands of numbers, which shows the great interest consumers have in texting, says Fred Grover, executive vice president of AEO Direct. The merchant planned to send its first text message marketing offer in mid-December.

But it’s a text effort American Eagle Outfitters launched in October 2007 that sets it apart in the field of mobile retailing. Send To Phone is a feature integrated into the retailer’s e-commerce site that enables shoppers to send via text message product information and a short note to others-for instance, asking a friend for her opinion or giving Grandma a birthday present hint.

The feature is essentially the same as E-mail A Friend. However, American Eagle Outfitters designed Send To Phone to do something e-mail can’t-help shoppers in stores remember exactly what to buy.

A text message comes with product name, description and number, so Grandma can just show the saved text message on her phone to a store associate and say, “Bring me this, please,” and be assured it’s precisely what her grandchild wanted. The same goes for shoppers who see something online and want to send themselves a text as a mobile reminder for their next visit to the mall.

For mobile phone users with web access, the text message also includes a hyperlink to a mobile web page, hosted on, with a product image and more information. American Eagle Outfitters uses mobile technology vendor Pelago Inc. to facilitate the text messaging.

A twist on text

Rather than taking a text message promotion or coupon approach first, the retailer wanted to put a different twist on text messaging, a spokeswoman says. “We’re a lifestyle brand and we want to be a part of customers’ lives all the time,” she explains. “Giving them a mobile platform where they can interact with the brand results in sales.”

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