Marketers sent 75% more SMS messages and 396% more push notifications than in 2020. Purchases attributed to those mobile messages grew at triple-digit rates.

In 2021, retailers generated the most orders from automated emails, even as conversion rates for promotional campaign emails improved, according to data from Omnisend, an ecommerce-focused marketing automation firm.

Retailers also significantly increased sending SMS messages and push notifications—messages that “pop up” on a consumer’s mobile device if she opts in to receive them.

Results from SMS and push notifications dramatically improved. Purchases attributed SMS messages grew 106% and those attributed to push message increased 171% year over year, Omnisend found.

Omnisend generated its results based on an analysis of 12 billion marketing emails, 63 million SMS messages, and 54 million web push messages sent by its 70,000-plus clients in 2021.

Retailers and brands use automated messages—in the form of email, SMS or push notifications—for tasks like reminding shoppers about abandoned carts, asking for feedback and product reviews and offering discounts on shoppers’ birthdays. Campaign messages typically are one-off communications sent manually, such as those promoting exclusive offers, discounts or new products.

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SMS and push notifications in 2021

The biggest surprise in the data was the increase in SMS and push automation, says Greg Zakowicz, director of content at Omnisend.

Marketers in 2021 sent 75% more promotional SMS messages than in 2020. And that was after message volume grew 376% year over year in 2020 compared with 2019, according to Omnisend. Within that overall increase in promotional SMS messages, automated messages grew 258% year over year.

“SMS marketing has been increasing for several years, and 2021 was no exception. It’s safe to say that SMS is now an established and permanent opt-in marketing channel. Brands that are not using it need to start to remain relevant and competitive,” Zakowicz says.

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Also, in 2021, marketers sent 396% more promotional push messages than in 2020 and 699% more automated push messages—than in 2020.

Like automated emails, consumers were more likely to purchase from an automated SMS or push messages compared with campaign messages, Zakowicz says.

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However, the conversion rate for promotional SMS messages of all kinds dropped slightly to 0.25% in 2021 from 0.28% in 2020. But conversion rates for automated SMS messages rose to 0.62%, a 20% increase compared with 2020.

Click rates for promotional SMS messages increased to 11.5% in 2021 from 10.6% in 2020. The click rate of automated SMS increased to 12% in 2021, up from 11.8% in 2020.

Email trends in 2021

Omnisend found that automated emails accounted for just 2.2% of emails retailers sent but generated 29.6% of all purchases attributed to marketing emails. 34% of consumers who click on an automated email go on to purchase compared to 7% of those who click on emails sent as email marketing campaigns, the firm found.

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“Automated messages perform so much better than scheduled promotional messages because they are behavior-based,” Zakowicz says. “They only send when the user takes an action.”


Zakowicz says automated messages are a refinement of audience segmentation.

“A brand might segment an audience for a promotional email based on criteria such as ‘previously purchased a sweater.’ While good, this doesn’t tell you anything about the audiences’ interest to purchase now,” he says.

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But with automation, retailers could program their systems to send sweater emails to shoppers who recently visited sweater product pages on the ecommerce site. Consumers are more likely to buy when they are actively browsing products, Zakowicz says.

That doesn’t mean email campaigns are ineffective. Campaign conversion rates have now increased in consecutive years, the data says. The conversion rate for email campaign emails increased 14% year over year in 2021, finishing the year at 0.10%, Omnisend found.

Meanwhile, the conversion rate for automated messages decreased 2.8% in 2021, compared with 2020. The 2021 conversion rate was 1.9%, Omnisend found.

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Welcome messages (with a 2.8% conversion rate) and cart abandonment messages (2.4%) generated the two highest conversion rates of all automated emails sent in 2021. According to Omnisend data, lapsed buyer and product review messages saw the most significant year-over-year declines.

“While I shouldn’t need to say it, email is not dead. On the contrary, by complementing it with SMS and other opt-in channels, I would argue that it may be more effective than it’s ever been,” Zakowicz says.

What retailers should do now

In 2022, retailers and brands should “go all-in” on SMS marketing, Zakowicz says.

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“Consumers are increasingly adopting the channel, and text messaging is a ubiquitous form of communication,” he says.

“In addition to merely adopting SMS, inserting it in the same automated workflows as email will enhance brands’ abilities to send relevant messages to the right consumer at the right time via the right channel,” Zakowicz says. “Think about abandoning a shopping cart and later receiving an email and SMS message. This allows you to easily return to the cart via the most convenient channel for the customer.”

He also believes brands should back away from deep discounts they have continued to offer over the years.

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“The ‘buy-it-now’ behavior has opened the door for experimenting with more traditional marketing tactics like scarcity marketing,” he added.

Another strong consideration is the need to collect data in ways that don’t violate consumer privacy, Zakowicz says. And, because shoppers must opt-in for email, SMS and push messages, those are becoming more important.

“As competition, cost, and data ownership of paid channels—such as paid social—becomes more convoluted, brands are recognizing the potential of having customer data less siloed and in their control,” Zakowicz says.

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