I'm going to break down the technology being used to power Gary Vaynerchuck's WineText so you can build your own "reply to buy" text message system.
If you aren't familiar, WineText is a fantastic brand that sells great wine at significant discounts. What makes the service magical is it's provided completely through text messages.
Once you sign up, you'll receive a "wine of the day" deal as a text message. If you see something you like, all you need to do is reply with the number of bottles you want to purchase. That's it! The order is processed instantly and a few days later the wine is at your doorstep. I've bought wine from WineText myself and the experience super slick.
The Power of SMS
Now this entire thing may sound a bit gimmicky to you, but it gets significant results. During an interview on 2PM’s Polymathic Podcast (26:10), Gary breaks down the success of WineText:
9,165 people are on [our texting list]. WineText is outperforming our email service that has 400,000 people on it by 15x.
These results aren't surprising given that SMS boasts a 90% open rate and most messages are read within 3 minutes. People pay attention to text messages - especially from brands they love.
So now that you see the power of text message commerce, how would you go about building a system like WineText?
Store Credit Cards
The first step that you'll need to create a shop by text system is to securely store your customer's credit cards. This allows you to charge the customer each time they authorize a purchase with them having to fill out their information again.
Stripe is our recommended service for capturing and storing credit card data. They provide a developer friendly API and with Stripe Elements you can capture credit cards securely without having to worry too much about PCI compliance.
Stripe prohibits selling certain regulated products - like high end cigars - through their service. If you fall into one of these categories, you may be able to use Authorize.net as a payment processor instead. They provide many of the same tools that Stripe does. Their API is harder to work with and their credit card capture service is less customizable but overall it gets the job done.
Send & Receive Text Messages
Now that you've captured & stored your customer's payment information, you'll want to send them your product offers through text messages.
There are two services that we recommend to send your texts: Twilio & Bandwidth. Both are going to allow to acquire a texting phone number and send out text messages programatically. We find that Bandwidth has better rates, while Twilio offers more peripheral services and has a more robust API.
The main deciding factor between the two will probably the number that you will use to send your text messages. There are a lot of changes coming to the texting industry with the introduction of 10DLC by the carriers (that's an article all on it's own!).
Basically 10DLC will allow you to send high throughput text message (up to 1200 msgs per minute) using a local phone number. There are a lot of unknowns with this product still and the costs appears to be significantly higher than using a toll free number.
For that reason, we would recommend using a toll free number to text out your product promotions. You'll want make sure the service supports sending image texts (MMS) through toll free numbers - not all services provide this.
Bandwidth has a better toll free texting product so we would give them the edge over Twilio currently.
You've tackled the two biggest components of a shop by text platform. The next step is to actually process orders that are placed by your customers.
When they reply to your product offer, you'll be looking for an authorization trigger of some kind. This can be "yes" or a number to indicate how many items of your product the customer would like to order. Once you know the quality they would like to buy, you'll calculate the order total and charge the customer's credit card using the Stripe or Authorize.net API.
Sales Tax & Shipping
The order total is most likely more than just multiplying the quantity purchased by the product price. You'll probably need to figure out the applicable sales tax and shipping fees (if any).
The challenge with text messages is the customer won't be able to see these charges in real time like they would on an eCommerce site as finalize their order. Because of this it's best to keep things as simple as possible for your customers. Offer a flat shipping rate if possible or provide an incentive of free shipping if they purchase a certain amount.
If you do want to calculate exact shipping & sales tax for each order there are a few services that can help calculate these fees automatically.
TaxJar & Avalara provide realtime sales tax calculations via their API . They calculate the sales tax based upon the full shipping address of the customer - not just their zip code. This results in highly accurate sales tax calculations.
Similarly, ShipEngine can be used to calculate exact shipping costs in realtime using their API.
Email Customer Receipts
Once the order is complete, you'll probably want to send the customer a receipt with all of their order details. SendGrid, which was recently purchased by Twilio, provides a simple way to send transactional emails.
Their template system makes it easy to generate customized emails for each individual order. Simply create the email template beforehand and then pass in the order details as dynamic data for each email. The order details will populate throughout email template and the email - with their specific order - will be sent to the customer.
Or... You Can Use TextRetailer
If all of that sounds like a lot of work, it is. There is a ton of effort that goes into making a seamless checkout process using text messages. The good news is you don't have to do any of it yourself.
TextRetailer provides all of the features you need to successfully run your own shop by text program:
- Grow your subscriber list with our mobile keyword signups & online forms.
- Send "reply to buy" product campaigns or more traditional "regular" text marketing campaigns.
- Have one-to-one SMS chats with individual customers - perfect for customer support.
- Manage all of your customers & orders with our built in tools.
- And many more features!
With pricing plans starting at only $24 /mo it's an incredibly affordable way to get started.
Interested in learning more? Schedule your own product tour of TextRetailer today. We are happy to answer any questions about our service and help you create your own shop by text strategy.