October 11, 2010, 3:24 PM

160 characters can mean a lot

Text messages may be tiny, but they can inform, help and even entertain customers.

Lead Photo

The big week is here, the week of Internet Retailer’s first annual Mobile Commerce Forum. And the keynote speaker, Will Pinnell, director of mobile strategy at Sabre Holdings/Travelocity, got me thinking of the power of text messages.

I’ve used Travelocity in the past for airline tickets, and one time awhile back the site asked me for my mobile number and if I wanted to receive text message alerts reminding me of my flight time and alerting me of any gate changes or other news. I thought it was a fantastic idea and signed up. I got my reminders, and I need reminders. And one time there was a gate change, which I received an alert for while in the cab on the way to O’Hare. That was very helpful.

Retailers can learn much from this type of text messaging. Texts can be a customer service tool for shoppers, most of whom have the ability to text, and do so. A shipping confirmation, for example, can be sent via text message, so a customer doesn’t have to go through the lengthy process of going to the UPS site and entering the number to track a package. A simple text can reassure them that their package is on the way.

But retailers using text messages today are going well beyond transactional messaging. Moosejaw Mountaineering sends out crazy messages to its opt-in customers containing goofy content from the Moosejaw Madness section of its site. This helps foster more intimacy with customers, as text messages pop up on their most personal device, their phone. This kind of marketing engenders customer loyalty, something Moosejaw excels in.

And Vans, the company that sells the iconic footwear of the same name, gives customers multiple options when signing up for text messages. You can sign up for the latest news and site content on Surf, Skate, Snow, Music, Art and more. And the text messages contain hyperlinks for web-enabled phones that send customers to the e-commerce site for more content that can’t fit in the 160-character limit of a text.

Text messages can be powerful little tools. And there are millions upon millions of consumers out there who love texting. Forward-thinking retailers should be considering how they can use text messaging to service and entertain customers anytime, anywhere.

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