Helping businesses stand out, build relationships, and convert customers for life.

One could easily argue that the COVID-19 pandemic has had the most transformative impact on the Retail sector for decades. The last 18 months have forced retailers to use every ounce of their resilience, adaptability and determination as they powered through multiple government lockdowns while navigating rapidly changing consumer behavior.

However, with soaring vaccination rates set to trigger the next phases of Australia’s recovery, optimism is growing. To stand out in the new normal, retailers must identify every competitive advantage at their disposal.

It’s easy to think that standing out requires groundbreaking strategies, but that’s not the case. Instead, retailers must ensure that their business, their products and their processes meet and exceed the needs of customers. Communication is a crucial, but often overlooked, foundation of this approach.

Today, shoppers demand communication and experiences that are convenient, personal and memorable. If a retailer can’t provide that, they’ll look for a competitor who can. Our research shows that the best way to provide the level of service that exceeds customer expectations in 2021 is through text messaging.

Today, so many of us live and work via our smartphones. Just as text messaging has revolutionised the way we interact with friends and family, it’s set to have the same impact in the way retailers interact with new and existing shoppers.

Text messages have a 209% higher response rate than emails, Facebook, and phone, while four in ten Australian consumers would switch to a business if it offered text communications. One in five (19%) are already conversing – having real, two-way conversations – with local businesses via text, and of those that aren’t, almost half want to.

Evidently, therefore, mobile communications are no longer optional for retailers, but essential. The pandemic has taught us that the most sophisticated, future-proof retail businesses are not eCommerce or bricks-and-mortar, but both, operating as a unified ‘omnichannel’ strategy. Shoppers want the convenience of discovering and engaging retail businesses online, but also still crave the physical, in-store interactions that make retail so meaningful. Text is a crucial way that retailers can tie their channels together and provide the service that wows their customers no matter how they shop.

As a retailer, you could have the best products on the market, but if you can’t effectively engage existing and prospective customers, it doesn’t count for much. A key aspect of consumers’ preference for text communication is its capacity for a real, conversational feel.

Three in four (76%) Australian consumers would be more likely to text with a local business if they knew a real person was going to receive and respond to their message instead of receiving automated messages. Text messaging implies real relationships and combines the best of eCommerce’s convenience with bricks-and-mortar’s personalness. 

For example, a retailer could use text to confirm their post-lockdown opening hours and protocols, share campaigns promoting their latest range or special offers around Black Friday, and encourage reviews when a sale or interaction is settled.

The byproduct is not only happier shoppers, but more shoppers. By sending customers a one-touch link to leave a review via text – rather than relying on them to proactively search your business online at a later date – you can incentivise them to leave the reviews that help retailers stand out from the crowd and grow their communities.

With restrictions easing across much of Australia over the coming weeks, businesses are understandably eager to get back to doing what they do best. The pandemic hasn’t changed the importance of beautiful products and meaningful experiences, but it has changed the provision of them.

For businesses to seize short-term opportunities like Black Friday and Christmas and lead by example long-term, it’s important to evolve and cater to new customer expectations, rather than reverting to tried and tested methods. Few strategies provide this opportunity better than text messaging.

Just as the postal system and ecommerce, the internet and email marketing, changed the way retailers cater to their customers, so too now will text. In a competitive industry, many retailers have beautiful products and memorable in-store experiences. But it’s subtle, yet convenient and powerful strategies like text messaging that helps retailers stand out, build relationships, and convert customers for life.

Dave Scheine is country manager for Australia at Podium.