“We Always Have Our Phones With Us”: Why Beauty Entrepreneurs And Experts Think SMS Will Become Bigger For Beauty Shopping

The notion of texts for transactions has been around for a while. In 2015, the savvy beverage brand Dirty Lemon made purchasing via text the in thing for cutting-edge digital brands. Today, much bigger players are embracing what’s also referred to as conversational commerce.

Last year, Walmart announced it’s beta testing Walmart Text to Shop in select markets, which allows customers to shop, pay and set up deliveries or pickups through simple SMS messaging. Walmart is hardly alone. The digital media company PureWow revealed its Wowtext venture in the first quarter of this year, and Marc Lore, the serial entrepreneur of Jet.com fame, is betting on conversational commerce with B2B startup Wizard Commerce.

Slated to launch later this year, Wizard’s service will reportedly provide retailers and brands with the technology to execute end-to-end text shopping experiences for their customers, including search, payment, shipping and reordering. It’s pulled in $50 million in series A funding.

We wondered about indie beauty’s role in the conversational commerce conversation. So, in the latest edition of our series posing questions relevant to indie beauty, we decided to ask 14 consultants, analysts, brand founders and artificial intelligence experts the following question: What’s your take on text-to-shop technology?

Wizz Selvey Founder and CEO, Wizz&Co

I think text shopping or "conversational commerce" is a huge opportunity for brands. This year so far, we’ve seen a huge level of fatigue around digital marketing, from low social media engagement to email open rates going down, and changes with platforms like Meta trying to keep consumers’ attention as well as iOS updates, all these things are making it more difficult for brands to get cut-through with digital advertising.

So, if brands can capture a customer’s attention over text, and they’re willing to give you their mobile number, this is a huge sales opportunity. I like to think of it in the context of how many emails we all delete without reading each day versus how many texts we open and read.

We always open text messages because generally they’re from our friends. So, if a brand is texting you, it makes sense psychologically that you’ll think of them as closely as you do a friend. So, this presents a huge opportunity to forge a deeper connection with people.

From the brands’ side, these messages certainly shouldn’t just be automated, as that may mean losing customers who don’t feel the content is right for them. But if brands are able to have a real person on the other end of the text who is sending information that’s tailored exactly to you, it’s an amazing opportunity.

I think there is space for evolution of "conversational commerce," too, as brands will expand into sharing photos, images, videos and voice notes. This will really start to mimic and tell of genuine human connection between brands and shoppers across a digital platform, and it can be done quite quickly and easily. This is similar to how personal shoppers might be connected with their best clients on text or WhatsApp, so this may be a wider-scale version of that idea.

This presents a potential opportunity for the 80/20 rule, the Pareto principle, that if you really focus on the needs and wants of 20% of your best customers, it’s likely that 80% of your sales will come from them. So, if brands can convert some of their best customers to "conversational commerce" and really nurture those relationships, they are likely to drastically increase their customer lifetime value.

Paula Floyd Founder, Headkount

Text-to-shop is such a new concept in the beauty space that 90% of our Headkount clients are unaware of this new shopping method. The pro here is simple. It's easy for the consumer to shop on their everyday device. The con here is customers have to give their personal information to another party, which could end up with an unknown third party. Most apps like Wowtext do not monitor links that may pop when using the app, therefore putting your information out there is a risk.

So, while text-to-shop may be very convenient, consumers have to be on guard against third-party links. To avoid a security issue, consumers need to be well versed on the app agreement they are signing.

Jeffrey Ten Chief Revenue Officer, ProBeauty Partners

Today's customer is demanding more simpler ways to shop, and the pandemic has certainly accelerated many direct-selling platforms as well as omnichannel marketing efforts.

I think the text approach to shopping will be very effective as it is caters even more to the unique and personal desires of the customer. It also enhances the speed of the shopping experience. It will not appeal to all, but I think it will appeal to the Asian consumer as well as a segment that appreciates the convenience of shopping on their smartphone. Look at how WeChat in China started compared to where it is now.

What is interesting with the brand Wowtext is they can leverage their sister brand PureWow, a digital lifestyle magazine for fashion, beauty and food, to find and drive new subscribers to their shopping platform. I think all retailers and brands will eventually move to a similar platform as it is an evolution of the digital direct-sales shopping experience.


Mary Hartje Owner, Ultamod Digital

The operative words here are “quick and frictionless." As long as you keep all the other ways to shop, traditional e-commerce, social shopping and email, this can only enhance the quick and frictionless shopping experience that brands and retailers already provide. (If they don't, it's best to bring in e-comm consultants that can assist.)

As with anything, there will be a segment of customers who will be early adopters, and some who will not even notice and never adopt, and then everyone in between. Simply add this way to shop to your already established e-comm experience and, voilà, more easy ways to shop! Can’t argue with any effort that creates a fun and simple shopping experience for customers.

Franca Zanovello Owner and CEO, Zanovello Consultants

Social commerce for beauty has been booming, with shoppable Instagram, TikTok, and exciting livestreaming and social shopping platforms such as Supergreat and Flip as well as the upcoming Wizard Commerce technology. I believe that brands and retailers can become even more successful when they are able to step out and meet consumers where they are. Consumers are in many places, but most of all, on their smartphones.

There are 5 billion or so mobile users around the globe now, with about 290 million Americans using smartphones everyday. SMS open rates are as high as 98%. As a global society, there's no doubt that we're conversational-first consumers.

Considering that the preferred method of communicating with friends and family is by text, I do believe that text-to-shop is a smart method that creates a relevant and powerful shopping experience. It not only allows brands and retailers to engage with the consumer on a more personal level, but it also merges instant connection and convenience at once.

I imagine text-to-shop will resonate with the customer seeking to simplify time-consuming shopping hurdles like lines at cash registers or even multi-click shopping online. If texting Walmart or any retailer can be as simple, efficient, and direct as messaging friends and family, I believe this channel can certainly complement and amplify social shopping and become fully integrated into our everyday lives.

It needs to offer the perfect union of innovation, technology and experience, though. Think about WeChat, which started as a mobile messenger in 2011 and today has over 1 billion active users.

Rebecca Zhou Co-Founder and CEO, Soft Services

With the ongoing shift towards all things mobile in commerce, text-to-shop makes sense as an inevitable next frontier. When executed thoughtfully, I believe text-to-shop is interesting as it combines two key factors of a best-in-class shopping experience: convenience and personalization.

However, it's something that brands and retailers should approach carefully. Email quickly became a hub for promotional spam, and with text messages existing in an intimate environment in people's lives, we need to be thoughtful in branded SMS communications so text doesn't fall into the same fate as email. Remember that your messaging is going to live next to texts from your shopper's mom, photos of their friends' kids, etc.

John Harmon Senior Analyst, Coresight Research

We see texting as the new e-mail. While texting lacks the immersiveness and engagement of visual communication, on the other hand, we always have our phones with us. Texting offers more interactive, immediate communication that presents less friction versus having to log on to an e-mail program to receive and reply to e-mail.

So the value of texting lies in the application. It’s very powerful when combined with an AI-powered chatbot that can understand the context of the exchange. It enables a retailer to craft short, crisp messages and questions. We have seen simple, powerful texting applications such as repeat orders where consumers are reordering staples or refilling a prescription. So there’s definitely potential for us to see more use of text-to-shop.

Christina Ramirez Founder, Plus Ultra

I think text shopping is genius. It's an excellent marketing tactic to spread promotions like a wildfire to your target audience, digital word of mouth. It's also a great way to reach existing customers to let them know about the newest product releases too.

Apps like Instacart and Postmates have made it so easy to buy groceries, meals, etc. (OK, we're all addicted), and now shopping for your favorite products via text is next. Forget the Meta algorithms, you can reach your loyal customers directly via text. I love it!

Chris Merkle Founder and CEO, Mime

Text-to-shop will inevitably find its place in the world, but it's still early. Using text AI as a way to help shoppers is an extremely cost-effective solution for brands and retailers, but at the expense of the customer experience—for now. Customers will be left guessing keywords that produce the actions they want or limited to a certain set of response phrases. Hear "Press 9 if you want to hear this menu again" anybody?

Where I see early success is in transactional orders like quickly reordering a product you already have. When trying to understand a customer's psychology and visual tastes through text, it becomes incrementally more difficult to support that shopper with technology.

Adam Pressman Managing Director, AlixPartners

Text is a way of making it quicker and easier for customers to make a purchase as part of their daily routines. It probably won’t apply for all transactions, but it can prompt and support customers when they have the need or an impulse to buy without their having to open an additional app or website.

Like other omnichannel experiences, brands must make sure the overall coordination is in place to support the customer’s entire journey versus just ‘taking the order.’  They must incorporate text as part of their overall interaction with customers.

Mark A. Cohen Director of Retail Studies, Columbia University Graduate School of Business

Not to be overly dismissive of this new “tool,” but I don’t see why much is being made of it. Telephone- and web-based transactions are all well entrenched. Voice-activated transactions are a big deal à la Amazon’s Echo.

Since voice-to-text is pretty much available to anyone with a smartphone or computer, however, I think the only issue of note here would be a retailer willing and able to open a text portal to their shopping site. I think more and more retailers are going to continue to follow Walmart (and Amazon’s) lead in giving the customer access to a transaction any way they wish.

Divya Gugnani Co-Founder and CEO, Wander Beauty

Conversational commerce and text marketing is at the forefront of our 2022 strategy and is proving to be an extremely cost effective and personalized way for us to engage with our customers at a high touch point. We are using it as a tool to help support consumers through their journey as it allows them to interact with our brand to receive customer support, product information and personalized product recommendations as well as make a purchase.

We’ve seen a 150% increase in new SMS subscribers YoY with 73% of our transactions coming from mobile, a 14% increase versus 2020, showcasing buyer behavior is shifting tremendously. The consumer is increasingly looking for instant solutions, and we are continuing to focus on making sure we are where they are, whether that is through chat, direct messaging, text or email.

Katie Thomas Lead, Kearney Consumer Institute

Text-to-shop shows promise given that it taps into a common consumer behavior (texting) using something always in their possession (a phone). Texting is already working successfully in other areas, whether for customer service or to call attention to sales or product drops.

Many of these technologies show better feedback and higher conversion rates given the mix of ease and engagement, but it’s important for consumers to easily be able to opt in or out or they’ll find it intrusive.

Text-to-shop resembles curbside or BOPIS as a hybrid option that will work for consumers in specific need states, where they are able to text to accelerate the aspects of the process that often drive friction. It’s worth noting that, with texting, consumers will assume there’s a person on the other end. So, the functionality should consider that a consumer may text back with a question. And, if the account is not monitored, it could add friction.

Chris Ventry VP, SSA & Company

I could see benefits of “reaction texts” wherein something that a customer wants is back in stock, they receive a text, and this causes a reaction. Building out a shopping list has some potential, albeit the visual form of a Walmart shopping app or mobile site might be more powerful than having customers text their shopping lists.

I could also see customers engage via app or mobile site or even in-store, and then receive forward communication via app. Instacart for example could send “product substitution approval/rejection” lists via text.

If you have a question you’d like Beauty Independent to ask beauty entrepreneurs, experts and executives, please send it to editor@beautyindependent.com.