There is now an app for just about everything, but a number of disruptors in retail are favoring the intimacy of a text message to make a sale. Many brands are already using text chatbots for mobile marketing or customer service, but now stores are taking the communication tool to new levels of engagement, using a more "human" connection and the lure of convenience to fuel transactions.
Direct-to-consumer beverage company Dirty Lemon is one of the pioneers of this model, relying solely on text messaging to sell its Instagram-famous drinks. After acquiring conversational weather service Poncho to strengthen its platform in spring 2017, Dirty Lemon expanded into offline territory in September 2018, opening a convenience store in Manhattan where consumers are encouraged to grab a $10 tonic and pay later—all by sending a text message.

The messaging interface, peppered with emojis and conversational language, is designed so that its target market of generation Z and millennial consumers feel like they're talking to a real person.
"Our order system allows us to talk to customers all day long; we literally answer tens of thousands of messages a month, a habit that has allowed the brand to grow into one that represents the people who purchase, instead of filtering a traditional top-down approach to marketing focused on extreme performance, or quick-fix results," Sommer Carroll, Co-founder, Dirty Lemon.

Another interesting example is members-only retail service Jetblack. It lets shoppers send text messages for delivery, in a move that targets primarily affluent mothers whose lives are too hectic for browsing its online store. Jetblack stores data on users' favorite household products, along with their preferred shipping and payment information, and lets consumers make a purchase simply by texting a keyword. It also helps customers tweak their shopping cart with the help of artificial intelligence.

For Jetblack, text messaging is just the first step. At MIT Technology Review's EmTech Next event, Store No 8's founder Katie Finnegan said the company is exploring how to evolve this service into one powered by an Alexa-like voice assistant. But at the moment, texting provides an easier way to give product recommendations and has a lower barrier to entry.

In September 2018, Rent the Runway also began testing a text-based VIP Concierge service run by human staff. The intent is to create a more efficient in-store experience by letting customers send styling questions over text ahead of their appointment.

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