November 9, 2010, 11:50 AM

Gap and Visa make ingenious move with texts

But will consumers enter their credit card number to participate?

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Text message marketing has been all about sending offers or content to customers who opt in to a mobile phone number database—offers or content designed for the crowd, not the individual. There have been some retailers that narrowed the crowd down into groups. Vans and Moosejaw, for example, have let consumers check off groups or features they wish to belong to or receive when opting in to texts. A Vans customer might check off “Surf” and then receive only content from Vans.com relating to surfing.

Gap has taken this process of honing text message marketing to the next level by providing offers custom-made for individuals. Partner Visa combs opt-in customers’ Visa transaction history to get an idea of the kinds of things a customer would be interested in, and Gap sends out offers based on that information. I think that’s brilliant.

But the big question is, will customers offer their credit card numbers to get these kinds of text messages? Customers received an e-mail a few days ago announcing the program and sending them to a secure Visa.com page to sign up. All they have to do is enter their mobile phone number and Visa card number and they’re all set. No name, expiration date or other information is collected, so a charge can’t be made. And the numbers are handled on a secure, encrypted site.

But when I received the e-mail, my first question was, why do they need my Visa number? You see, they don’t explain in the main e-mail marketing copy that you’re receiving offers based on your purchase history. You have to read the fine print to understand what is happening. Why hide this fact? The fact that offers are personalized is a big selling point, and I think one that could convince many people to take that big step of entering their credit card number. As it is, without reading the fine print, there’s no real reason given why Gap needs the Visa number.

Gap is clearly blazing a new trail in text message marketing with this program. It just needs to speak up, brag about what it and Visa can do for customers. That will help overcome the hurdle of convincing those customers who worry about giving out their credit card number that this program is worth that number.

I hope more retailers move into personalized text messages. It’s an ingenious idea by Gap and Visa. And if other retailers do make the move, they should make clear the benefits and how the program works. Customers will love it.

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