Text-to-shop: Combined 54% say they are interested in trying it

Published on 22/06/2022 by David Jani

Technology opens up all sorts of possibilities for retail management. One of these innovations is text-to-shop, which offers a way for businesses to implement checkout-less shopping for online purchases. In this article, we explore how this technology works and what the British public thinks about it. 

Man using text to shop going shopping walking on barcode

As we saw in our previous look into consumer retail buying habits, checkout-free shopping garnered significant interest from the smartphone-using public in the UK. However, does that same level of curiosity exist for text-to-shop?

In our survey examining the retail buying opinions of approximately 1,000 UK-based consumers, we asked participants for their thoughts on this retail strategy. In doing so we hoped to understand if text-to-shop would prove popular and technologically viable with users. 

The full methodology for our survey can be found at the end of this article.

How does text-to-shop work?

Text-to-shop is a type of conversational commerce that has been popular in Asia for many years and is being trialled by a number of companies in the United States. It allows customers to complete purchases with brands and stores via SMS text messaging services like WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger and WeChat.

Here’s how it works in practice:

1. Customers sign up for the text-to-shop service on a company website or in-store to provide the information needed to complete a purchase, such as their address and billing details.
2. Users receive a text message from the seller offering a deal on an item (or items), for sale.
3. The recipient can reply to the conversation to place the order checkout-free. This step can either be managed manually by a member of staff or fully automated.
4. The customer can then collect their purchase from the seller’s nearest retail site or via home delivery.

These kinds of transactions don’t require users to have a brand-specific app downloaded as the entire process is carried out directly through regular SMS messages, although you do need to sign up with a participating company. This does however still present a relatively low-tech way of engaging with customers directly.

Does text-to-shop appeal to consumers?

A lot of technological innovations in retail can succeed or fail based on how likely the public is to use them. SMS has nearly universal coverage for both smart and non-smart mobile phones, and it is something most device owners will already be familiar with using. So in theory, there is already a wide audience with the technology needed to try text-to-shop.

But does the idea of using SMS messaging for shopping generate enough curiosity to encourage potential users to actually try it? 

We found that there is some interest in text-to-shop, although it’s not a feature that consumers are universally demanding to have.

Graphic showing levels of consumer interest in trying text-to-shop

A large group (37%) of the UK consumers we asked said that they were “somewhat interested” in trying text-to-shop. Yet, generally, the results showed an approximately half and half split between those showing any interest in trying this type of shopping and those that were either “not really interested” or “not at all interested”.

This doesn’t seem to suggest that there is a groundswell of demand for text-to-shop. However, it does appear to show that there are opportunities for small businesses looking for a relatively accessible new way to reach engaged consumers given that over half of our respondents expressed an interest.

What features of text-to-shop interest the public most?

As we’ve already mentioned, a big bonus of text-to-shop is that most of the public won’t need new technology, or even to download any new apps to enjoy using the service. However, there are also many other reasons that consumers may want to use text-to-shop on a regular basis.

We asked those who had indicated some interest in using text-to-shop to select some of the most useful features the service could offer. They chose the following points as the most important benefits. 

Graphic showing the advantages consumers think text-to-shop would bring

What seems to be clear is that the overall speed and ease of text-to-shop are regarded very highly by our survey respondents. These ranked better than other factors such as personalised recommendations or exclusive deals.

Where would customers prefer to use text-to-shop?

Knowing where a text-to-shop strategy could work could prove crucial when assessing such a system for use within a brand or small business.  

To find out where such a strategy could be used, we asked respondents interested in the technology to identify the three top places where they would like to try to text-to-shop.

Graph showing which types of store respondents would like to use text-to-shop

The clear favourites for our participants were supermarkets, which were chosen as a preferred choice by 31% overall. However, other options such as clothes shops and corner shops also ranked highly.

It seems that like with checkout-less shopping in-store, food and clothing businesses could benefit most from potential retail technology innovations that streamline the buyer’s journey. 

What are the worries about using text-to-shop?

Whilst, there are plenty of reasons text-to-shop could work well as part of a business’s sales and marketing strategy, it does have some drawbacks.

SMS may be widespread in use but it is also prone to potential scams. Smishing (SMS phishing) is a common issue whereby scammers pretend to be a trusted brand to obtain sensitive information from a user. This is especially prevalent with parcel and package deliveries.

Unsurprisingly being scammed was ranked highly as a potential worry by consumers in our survey. 

Graphic showing the main worries of using text to shop

However, the top concern for our sample was being overcharged. This reflects similar fears seen with in-store checkout-less shopping, where respondents feared encountering issues with the billing process.

This shows once again that one of the biggest obstacles to retail innovations using mobile technology is uncertainty around how the final bill for a purchase will be calculated, as well as the overall security of such systems.  

Did you know?

The government has set rules in place that police how companies selling products online must inform their customers before closing a sale.

This means that businesses are required to properly disclose the following:

That customers have to pay when they place an order
– The steps involved in completing the purchase and receiving an item
– The total price and how it will be calculated (including details on any deliveries too)
– Clear methods of communication with your company or brand
– Confirmation that the purchase has been completed

These are all factors that companies must remember to include when running text-to-shop campaigns. Being transparent with the details of a transaction will also reassure customers who are unsure of using text to shop.

Too much spam? Are consumers happy getting more text messages?

Another potential headache for would-be text-to-shoppers is the possibility of getting more text messages than usual. There are plenty of reasons people might be wary about this.

According to an OFCOM report published in autumn 2021, 45 million people were affected by spam messages and calls in the three months prior, with 71% reporting that they had received a suspicious text message. Worse still, around 44% reported receiving a suspicious text once every week.    

Crucially though, it is also against the law to send unwanted marketing text messages without the correct permission from a customer. 

However, to find out what volume of messages would be acceptable for consumers, we asked our sample of those interested in text-to-shop how often they would be willing to receive SMS messages from their favourite shops and brands. They gave us the following answers.

  • 32% said every week
  • 27% said a few times a week
  • 17% said once a month
  • 10% said on special occasions
  • 8% said never
  • 6% said every day

What can be seen from this is that consumers are perfectly willing to receive text messages from companies they trust at a fairly regular frequency. 

Not only this but our findings also reflected a relative comfort with being recommended new items for sale based on their previous purchases and user data. A combined 56% of all respondents said they were either “very comfortable” or “somewhat comfortable” with this prospect.

On the other hand, 20% reported being “somewhat uncomfortable” and 18% said they would be “very uncomfortable” with the possibility of their data being used in this way. 7% said they were not sure.

These findings suggest that potential text-to-shop customers would exist amongst the British public. However, making sure offers are relevant and messages are not too frequent (around once a week or less) appears to be a key factor in running a successful text-to-shop strategy.

Did you know?

SMS marketing software can be used to onboard and support text-to-shop campaigns for businesses looking to harness the medium’s potential.

It is used to help with a number of essential tasks for text-to-shop including:

– Contact management
– Mass texting
– Shortcodes
– Campaign analytics
– Mobile coupons
– 2-way messaging

Is it the time right for text-to-shop?

Whilst text-to-shop is an innovative way to engage with consumers, there are some questions hanging about how widespread it could become.

Whilst a few companies are adopting text-to-shop, it doesn’t yet seem like there are clear or obvious signs of an explosion in this form of doing business. 

There has also been a continuous decline in traditional SMS usage amongst the UK population, with services like WhatsApp largely taking its place. However, this shouldn’t necessarily prove an issue for anyone planning to use text-to-shop, as services can also be carried out using a text messaging app like WhatsApp or iMessage too. 

Of course, as we saw previously from our survey findings, the conditions are somewhat right to take advantage of text-to-shop. There is enough interest in trying it and there isn’t much resistance to the technology. 

 This could work in text-to-shop’s favour especially well. This was particularly true when we asked our respondents about their general relationship with new technologies. On the whole, most people we asked preferred to use existing technology or updated versions of tools and apps they currently own.  

Graphic showing consumer relationships with new technology such as text-to-shop]

Key takeaways

Text-to-shop is already a popular way to do business in many parts of the world. It is, however, an ultimately untapped market strategy in the UK. 

It offers retail owners and small to medium enterprises (SMEs) some interesting possibilities for new ways to engage with their customer base. This is especially true considering the low technological threshold it would take to implement for both businesses and customers. 

In studying the opinions and views of our sample of UK consumers, we identified the following key takeaways about text-to-shop: 

  • A combined 54% of respondents would be interested in trying text-to-shop.
  • The biggest advantage of text-to-shop for the biggest group of our sample (23%) was the ease of ordering it offered.
  • 31% of potential users wanted to use text-to-shop for grocery purchases.
  • The main worries people had about using text-to-shop were being overcharged (15%) or being scammed (14%).  
Looking for retail management software? Check out our catalogue. 

Methodology

Data for GetApp’s Go Shopping survey was collected in April 2022. Results comprise responses from 999 UK participants. The criteria to be selected for this study are as follows:

  • UK resident
  • Aged over 18 years old
  • Shops for groceries at least once a month
  • Living in an urban or suburban area
  • Owns a smartphone

This article may refer to products, programs or services that are not available in your country, or that may be restricted under the laws or regulations of your country. We suggest that you consult the software provider directly for information regarding product availability and compliance with local laws.


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About the author

Content Analyst for the UK, providing key insights into tech, software and business trends for SMEs. Cardiff University graduate, travel enthusiast, keen home chef and F1 fan.

Content Analyst for the UK, providing key insights into tech, software and business trends for SMEs. Cardiff University graduate, travel enthusiast, keen home chef and F1 fan.