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After email, SMS, what’s next for ecommerce brands?

Email vs SMS vs Mobile App Push Notifications

Steve has been your customer for quite a while now.

The last thing he saw before he fell asleep last night was his mobile phone and the first thing he’s looking at this morning is also, unsurprisingly, his mobile phone.

He notices an SMS with a sale announcement from your brand and gets excited. He’s been eyeing a pair of sneakers for some time.

He clicks on the link to the sale on your website in the SMS. But, it does not load quickly enough, he gets annoyed and forgets all about your big sale. Ouch! One more SMS wasted!

You’ll probably say to that – “No worries, we have another high-performing marketing and communication channel – we’ve sent him an attractive email that’ll grab his attention and make him click on the link to the sale”.

But, he does not check his email until he’s done with the workday. And, it’s not just him – the average customer takes roughly 6.5 hours to open an email. Moreover, only 2% of users click on links in email. So, ultimately you’ve lost out on one more customer who would have enjoyed shopping in your sale. 

What if you had another, more effective way to reach customers that slip through the cracks in your existing sales & marketing channels? You can reach customers where they’re highly likely to engage – through a native mobile app and establish an omnichannel messaging strategy. This will create a sticky and seamless user experience, encourage app engagement, and increase user retention over time.

A native mobile app is your best, most ROI-efficient marketing and sales channel, and an essential addition to your marketing mix. 

Email, SMS, mobile app push notifications – how do they compare?

Sources: DSIM and Statista via MobileMonkey, Mailchimp, Reckless, Airship Benchmark Report 2021.

With an omnichannel strategy, your goal should be to gently remind your customers about your brand and spark enough interest that will result in engagement and clicks, without annoying them with spam. So, what kind of messages to send with what channel is super crucial here.


Email marketing has penetrated practically all industries and has been a top-performing channel for many years. 

Ecommerce operators typically use email to convey important information that is not time-sensitive, such as announcements, feedback, user-account verification, business updates, and such.  Email is a critical channel for customer-facing ecommerce operations, but should you use email to advertise special offers and discounts? Sure, only if those incentives are not time-limited, given how much time it takes for emails to be opened (384 minutes) on average. The tide has turned now, and despite the ubiquity of email, there are some significant drawbacks to this channel.

Why email shouldn’t be your only messaging channel

It won’t be opened soon enough or at all

Unlike mobile app push notifications or SMS, not everyone gets a notification on getting a new email. People tend to check their emails in one go, periodically – a certain time of the day, for example. So, emails don’t get viewed immediately, and customers won’t take the desired action within the desired time frame.

More importantly, more than 20% of emails sent don’t get delivered at all. And, if your emails do get delivered, there’s a high chance – more than 70%, that they won’t be opened at all. If they do get delivered and opened, only 2% of customers click on links in your email. Plus, email opt-in rates are very low too, at a meager 1.95%. 

It can end up in spam

2.4 billion emails get sent every second. Your customers’ inboxes are overflowing with emails of all kinds, solicited or unsolicited. Popular email servers cut down on unwanted emails with filters that detect and examine bulk distributed emails. And, customers commonly adjust their email filters to their own preferences. Your emails could easily land in a spam folder and never get to see the light of day.

It’s hard work to ensure your emails don’t get viewed as a disruption. Brands have to adhere to specific language and avoid certain keywords. In some extreme cases, your emails could land you in serious legal trouble – the CAN-SPAM Act has a strict set of rules that companies must meet while using email marketing, or be charged to the tune of $16,000.

It can appear differently on different device types

Your marketing and UX teams may have worked to the bone to strategically create an email marketing campaign that looks good and works well, but different servers, device types, and computer or mobile settings mean that your design may not appear exactly as you hoped, or be even completely distorted.

At times it can reduce the impact of your message and other times be a complete UX nightmare. If you want to avoid this, you’ll have to ensure that the code used is readable to the most basic processing systems and appears uniformly irrespective of the server, device, or device setting. You may need to invest in expert consultations with a technical specialist or marketing firm, thus increasing cost and lowering your ROI. 

It is expensive

Email marketing is not cost-effective if that’s your only channel of marketing communication with your customers. The cost of email marketing is dependent on the number of subscribers you have. Most email service providers offer varying custom pricing plans in case of customers exceeding 25,000.

On average, you can expect to pay $150 to $1000 per month for unlimited emails.

Email appeals to distinct audiences. Older audiences prefer email and rely on this channel to get offers, news, discounts, and important order updates more frequently than younger audiences. Diversify your messaging strategy by reaching out to different audience groups where they feel most comfortable.  Email is an excellent choice for such use cases.


SMS can be used effectively to relay messages that have more permanence since text messages tend to live in your customers’ phones for a long time, usually being erased automatically only when inboxes become full. If your users don’t delete your very first message, your subsequent texts will appear one after the other, cataloged in the same thread.

This is a super convenient way to establish a deeper, more long-lasting connection with your customer and build brand relevance. SMS is great for repetitive, periodic, and ongoing promotions, support messages, and alerts. If your customers haven’t downloaded your app, you can keep them engaged or urge them to download your app through SMS.

Why you can’t rely only on SMS to be your only channel of customer communication

It is pretty expensive

SMS campaigns are not cheap and never free. Recent research says, sending one SMS in the US is $0.0070. If your client base is 100,000, then deploying an SMS campaign with just one message to all of your customers can cost you $700. Your SMS can end up costing your customer too if they don’t have an unlimited SMS plan. To add to the cost complexity, SMS costs vary by country. You may be paying hidden carrier fees.

Its reach is seriously limited

SMS opt-in rates are much lower than mobile app push notification rates – only 10% of consumers opt in for your SMS. In order for you to be able to market to someone without legal consequences, they have to opt-in for your SMS list. This means you’re only reaching a limited subset of your customers with your SMS marketing campaigns. With SMS, you also have to provide a simple and straightforward method of opting out of receiving SMS communication, as per FCC (Federal Communications Commission, U.S) and IC (Industry Canada) guidelines.

It has limited personalization and customization options

You can’t personalize your SMS campaigns as much as you can customize an app’s push notifications. Apart from basic factors such as personal details and geographical location, you don’t have too many details about your customers to tweak your messages enough to push them as effectively as mobile app push notifications do.

It has design limitations

SMS messages are very limited in terms of design and the types of multimedia they support. The texts you send are capped at 160 characters and are limited in the types of multimedia they support. So, your messages need to be simple and convey the CTA (Call to action) without any fluff or the support of visual elements. Plus, multimedia elements may render differently across different types of devices.

However, using SMS, you can communicate with audiences who haven’t downloaded your app yet, are traveling without internet access (provided your SMS doesn’t have links), or are not actively engaged.

Mobile app push notifications

Your customers check their personal emails for a measly 20 minutes per day on an average, but their smartphones are on for at least 16 hours every day. This means app-based push notifications have 48x higher visibility. And here’s what that kind of visibility gets you:


Why mobile app push notifications are your best performing mobile-based sales channel

An on-brand native mobile app and effective push notification campaigns will fill the gaps in your owned marketing and engagement strategy. Here’s how mobile app push notifications help your brand stay on top of your customers’ minds. 

Their opt in rates are drastically higher

Mobile app push notifications have the highest opt in rates at 30%, almost 3x of SMS at 10% and 15x of email at 2%. This means the number of people who will assuredly engage with your brand communication also increases in these multiples.

They’re free!

App-based push notifications deliver a much higher ROI than email and SMS and don’t ask much from your customers. Your customers don’t HAVE to open them to view them, they can just be viewed from the notifications tab on their mobile devices. Mobile app push notifications are always absolutely free.

There is no charge on reach, so you can consistently, dependably, and cost-effectively increase the engagement to turn casual shoppers into advocates. We can’t stress this enough – there is no extra cost associated with bulk as there is for email or SMS – zero, zilch, nada. You can send highly effective, segmented push notifications for free, whether you send a thousand or a hundred thousand of them.

They are remarkably more visible

Given that mobile app push notifications have a 50% higher open rate than email, you have 50% more chances to entice your customers with your brand’s new product launches, app-exclusive discounts, offers, collections, and flash sales. Mobile app push notifications reach customers who have downloaded your app and attempt to keep them engaged for long, repeatedly.

However, they are significantly less intrusive than SMS because they are directly delivered front and centre on your customer’s user’s screen without interrupting their current activity. There’s more, mobile app push notifications don’t need an opt-in either.

They are smart and highly personalized

How do you make push notifications relevant to many different audience groups, that too at times when you know they’re most likely to make a purchase? That looks like a ton of work, doesn’t it? Smart push notifications dynamically segment your audience based on a wide range of specific parameters like gender, location & time zone, demographics, product preferences, buyer history, and their interactions with the app. Then, these customized smart push notifications are sent to customers at just the right times to multiply the likelihood of a purchase.

For example, If you know that Steve from Sacramento usually browses products in your app on his lunch break, you can send him a daily push notification about the products he was browsing at 12:00 pm asking him to continue his search or inform him of a limited-time deal on the products he browses the most. Popular push notifications like “Abandoned Cart” or “Flash Sales” deliver great results – abandoned cart push notification get 

They keep your customers thinking about you

These notifications serve as a direct line of communication with your customers keeping your brand on their minds even while they’re inactive on your app. When you build re-engagement campaigns, you can leverage your knowledge of what’s important to your users and impress them with content that will genuinely help them and make shopping an easy and enjoyable experience.

They catch your eye 

With push notifications, form truly follows function. You can create attractive rich push notifications that your customers can’t miss and have them deep-link to a specific menu, screen, or feature in your app, which is relevant to the customer and which prompts them to follow through on your desired action seamlessly.

Targeted notifications sent to a segmented audience are extremely effective in retention – 39% of customers have over 11 sessions with targeted notifications.

Your best sales and marketing channel awaits you

The modern e-commerce shopper’s journey contains multiple touchpoints where they learn more about your brand, consider buying from your brand, make a purchase, and become repeat customers with high lifetime values. Brands need to be present on all of these touch points to gently guide their customers towards brand loyalty. The key is understanding your customers’ needs and habits so you don’t overwhelm or annoy them with ineffective, repetitive noise.

Ready to experience the power of push notifications for yourself?

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