Black Friday: Is the Humble SMS the Secret Weapon for Brands Managing Customer Service Volumes This Year?

James O’Hare, managing director, LINK Mobility

James O’Hare, managing director of LINK Mobility, says great communications will be critical.

Black Friday is a time of year when consumers can get the best deals for the things they want, and on occasion the things they didn’t know they needed. As such, supply chains and stock availability have always been geared around specific Black Friday and Cyber Monday events.

However, as the cost-of-living crisis deepens, this year’s Black Friday is set to be crucial for family budgeting and the buying behaviours are predicted to be very different. Price sensitive consumers will be willing to do a lot of research to compare prices and ensure their money goes as far as it can. People will closely analyse what constitutes good value with many expecting extras like free delivery, or service guarantees as part of the deal.

According to Intelligence Node, this context means that buyers won’t be waiting until Black Friday to get a bargain. They will be on the lookout for deals much earlier than usual.

Earlier discounting

Whereas Black Friday / Cyber Monday trading has often extended to a full week of offers, this year, discounting has started earlier. We’ve already started to see brands spread bet and offer discounts of 25% or more to entice customers and manage this longer tail of buying. It’s very likely that testing the water in this way will help brands assess the consumer mood and asses when it’s the right time to ramp up the discount value, and the range of products that are discounted.

This is indicative of the financial pressures that brands face too. They need to move stock that some will have committed to almost a year ago – at a time when predicted margins and profits were very different to those expected today. Inflation in December 2021 stood at 6.4% now it is hovering around 10%. It’s therefore extremely important to manage buying patterns to achieve the greatest returns on stock and get marketing campaign investment and discounting right.

How can brands manage customer expectations and behaviour and still drive a good return?

There’s no doubt about it, it will be hard. It’s therefore well worth looking at the deals you want to offer, when you want to offer them, and then re-assessing customer behaviour patterns so you can align your campaigns and communications channels accordingly. So which comms channel is right?

Email campaigns: these are tried and tested and work successfully. But this year it’s very likely consumers will be trying to keep on top of all the deals and will have signed up for as many notifications as they can. It goes without saying that your email could get lost within a cluster of other brands competing for attention.

Social media posts: they speak directly to consumers through a channel familiar to them. People will act on adverts they see if you make it easy for them to link directly to the product online. But consumers are just as likely to avoid them if they see it as an invasion on their social feeds. It’s also worth noting that for paid and organic posts alike, consumers often have difficulty recalling and describing branded posts they have seen.

So, are the open rates on emails and ‘read time’ of posts going to generate the kind of return on investment you’ll need? It can be argued both ways, which is why it’s so important to understand your customer profile, buying habits and communication preferences, and have good data to act on when designing campaigns and where to invest.

SMS – the unsung hero

But it’s also worth looking at other avenues. One marketing channel that is underutilised by the retail world for occasions such as Black Friday is the humble SMS. With delivery rates of 98%, and around 74% more engagement than emails, it’s an extremely effective method to reach customers.

Success comes from the fact that you can speak directly to your consumer without all the other noise around it. We see a text, we read it. A text will allow you to stand out from the many emails your customer is receiving that day. Not only this, but by presenting customers with direct links to your online store, you are making it more convenient for them to find out more and buy.

If you’re worried about how a text will match up to the quality of your email practices and generate conversions, then don’t be. Rich SMS technology, a technology developed by Google, can turn a text message into a more engaging one by including the same content you would include in your emails, and all in line with your brand’s look and feel.

You can use carousels that show a mix of products, include video links to ‘catwalk’ inspiration for example, and even interactive ‘games’ like scratch cards that give spot prizes such as free delivery, discounts, or free gifts.

Offering support and help

As people face into the consequences of high inflation and interest rates some people will be finding life hard. Circumstances will change and what they can afford today, might not be the same next week. We’ve seen brands use SMS to offer help and advice on managing money often in association with a charity partner. It’s a way to extend the brand values of caring, and at the same time mitigate the risk of missed payments.

How to recover debt is already high on the agenda of many companies, and the next few months will only intensify the urgent need to have a plan. Sending texts to dedicated landing pages explaining financing options, or how to request help, is going to be a useful tool for managing calls but also helping customers who could avoid a difficult situation altogether.

We’ve seen brands switch from email to text very successfully as part of their debt management programmes. In one case, open rates for texts sent to offer help jumped from 2% to 10% as people were more willing to act on receipt of the message. The messages were written in an empathetic way, and this was credited with helping to get people to do something, rather than nothing.

As you will see SMS can be a very versatile tool for marketers and customer service agents alike. Managing a digital experience, demonstrating good value and ensuring loyalty can all be achieved through this channel. So, is it time you gave it some love?

About the Author

James O’Hare is the managing director of LINK Mobility.

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