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Push notifications vs SMS: which one is better for your business?

People’s phones are pinging constantly these days. An SMS here. A push notification there. Perhaps an email or a Slack message. It’s a constant barrage of pings, dings and vibrations.

With so many marketing channels to choose from, it can be hard to work out which one’s best when you want to reach your customers on their phones. Here, we put two channels head-to-head to see which one stands out. Enter the ring, SMS vs push notifications.

SMS and push notifications: what’s the difference?

Both SMS and push notifications can appear as clickable ‘messages’ on your customers’ phones. A push notification comes from an app or website – think breaking news or an offer from a retail app. As long as the app is downloaded on a customer’s phone and push notifications are enabled, it can be an easy way to blast out time sensitive alerts. 

SMS, or short messaging service, is a way of sending messages directly to people using their mobile phone number. It’s used for a wide range of business and marketing purposes, such as marketing promotions, appointment reminders, survey and feedback incentives and business alerts, just to name a few. Even better? You can enable two-way conversations with customers via text. 

Before we dive into when you’d want to use SMS vs push notifications, let’s take a look at the key differences between the two.

Push notificationsText messages
Getting startedYou need to build an app and get customers to sign up. This can take time and investment.You can start sending text messages in as little as 30 minutes with an SMS platform.
Opting inCustomers must download your app and allow notifications.Customers must consent to receive SMS marketing campaigns from you.
Opting outCustomers can disable notifications from your app at any time.Customers can choose to opt out of receiving SMS at any time.
Ways to engageCustomers can click on a push notification to open content within the app.Customers can click on links in an SMS or, if two-way text is enabled, can respond via text.
AppearanceNotifications can include images. The length of the message can depend on the app.Messages can include images. Length can vary (a standard SMS is 160 characters).
Open ratesAverage reaction rates for push notifications are less than 5%.Open rates for SMS are as high as 98%, with 90% of texts opened in 3 minutes.
Mobile devicesOnly works on smartphones.Works with both smartphones and dumbphones.

Here’s why SMS is best for engaging with customers

One less app to download

To send push notifications, you need to build an app. Then, you need your customers to download it and enable notifications. It’s a big ask.

With SMS, all you need is your customer’s phone number and consent to receive messages. They don’t need to download anything or change any settings on their phone.

TOP TIP: Start building your database of mobile phone numbers. Get tips on how to capture customers’ phone numbers here.

No WIFI, no worries

For push notifications to work, an internet connection is needed. If your customer isn’t connected to WIFI or the internet, they may miss the notification. 

You don’t need WIFI for SMS. Instead, the message is sent using the customer’s mobile network – which typically has a lot more reach and reliability.

All phones included

Across the globe, more and more people are ditching their smartphones in favor of an old-fashioned ‘brick’, or dumbphone. So much so that global purchases of dumbphones hit 1 billion last year.

Most apps will only work on a smartphone. But all mobile phones can send and receive text messages. By choosing SMS over push notifications, you’re not excluding any customers who choose the ‘brick’.

Vanishing notifications

Ever received a push notification, swiped to open your phone and it’s disappeared? This can be super frustrating. And it could lose valuable sales, especially if a customer can’t find the offer you’ve just promoted. 

SMS messages don’t disappear. They’ll appear as a preview on the home screen, and then customers can easily open their messaging app to find and engage with the full message.

The issue of consent

When a customer downloads an app to their phone, they may unwittingly have notifications set to ‘on’ by default. In fact, Android phones automatically enable them. Yet if you bombard customers with too many messages – or the wrong types of content – then you’ll lose them in a flash. 

With SMS, customers must actively consent to receive messages. This puts them in control, making them less likely to opt out. Of course, you still need to nail the timing and type of content you send via SMS. Always remember to include an opt-out option and be mindful of the fact that you could lose customers if you send the wrong message at the wrong time.

Convinced that SMS is the way to go?

Now you know the pros and cons of push notifications and SMS text messages. Unless you’ve already invested in an app and it’s got great uptake, then SMS is clearly the best way to reach and engage with customers on their phones.

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