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The Future Of Retail May Rely On Texting

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Sometime in the future, texting could replace calling a store and waiting to speak to someone to find out if the item you want is available.

Interior of Lamps Plus
Lamps Plus

In an effort to bring more customers into brick-and-mortar stores and adjust to people's penchant for texting, more companies are turning to text messaging. Los Angeles-based lighting retailer Lamps Plus has introduced a new feature that allows customers to use their phones to text a store associate and ask questions about an item before they walk into the store.

“I saw the growth of texting and decided we could add the ability for customers to text all of our stores as another option to phone calls,” Lamps Plus CEO and founder Dennis Swanson wrote in an email to Bisnow.

Swanson said many customers are texting as a means of communication on a regular basis, and Lamps Plus wanted to meet its customers where they were. 

“This is why we focused on a direct text number for each store,” he wrote. “We wanted to make it as easy as possible for our customers to reach stores no matter where they were in the process. Our goal in doing this was to connect with our customers as quickly and as easily as possible. As lighting can seem technically challenging or complicated, providing easy opportunities to offer assistance is always on the forefront of our minds.”

Traditional brick-and-mortar retailers continue to transform to stay relevant as customers embrace the convenience of shopping online, coming up with ways to lure customers into their stores.

A recent U.S. Department of Commerce retail report found, for the first time, that sales from e-commerce beat out in-store sales, albeit narrowly. Some saw this as a sign of the pending retail apocalypse. Others pointed out the numbers appeared to make a false comparison.

As more Americans — especially millennials — prefer texting to making a phone call, text messaging is seen as the wave of the future for businesses. About 292 million people, 80% of North Americans, use text to communicate, according to Slicktext.com, a company that provides text messaging service for businesses.

Lamps Plus founder and CEO Dennis Swanson
Lamps Plus founder and CEO Dennis Swanson

Currently, most businesses send promotional and sales information, and confirm appointment times, via text. 

Last year, Walmart launched Jetblack, a personal shopping service via text messaging. In 2015, Nordstrom launched TextStyle, a service for customers to make purchases from a sales associate or stylist using text messaging.

Lamps Plus CEO Swanson said his company began testing the texting feature with four stores in early December. It is now unveiling the feature across 40 stores and 1,500 employees nationwide.

He did not disclose how much it cost the company to provide the service, but said the main expense was providing iPads to take photos and video of the products and training store associates.

He said employees have been surprised at how popular the service has been. 

Customers loved the idea of having a “shopping assistant” to help them answer questions and even take pictures or videos of the products that interested them, he said. 

“We saw the volume of texts grow each day,” Swanson wrote. “Some customers even commented that they liked that they could shop while busy with a task at work.”

Swanson said the new texting service gives customers and store associates an opportunity to build rapport and trust early in the shopping process. 

“Our goal is to make the shopping process as easy as possible so if they prefer not to come into the store but get what they need, we’re glad to have satisfied customers. However, we know from feedback that customers enjoy reserving a product, visiting our stores and seeing the product in person,” he wrote.