Technology Meetup Recap: SMS Services

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The American Booksellers Association’s second Technology Meetup was held on Tuesday, August 13, and focused on SMS messaging, a communication channel that allows businesses to advertise and promote products to customers as well as to engage with them, all through text messaging. During the session, booksellers heard from colleagues who are using various SMS services to communicate with their customers.

This new series is part of ABA’s ongoing education initiative for independent bookstores; Technology Meetups will take place one Tuesday per month at 2:00 p.m. ET; ABA’s Marketing Meetups will continue to be held two Thursdays a month at 11:00 a.m. ET.

Guest speakers for this meetup included Sarah Krammen of Dragonfly Books in Decorah, Iowa; Anne Holman of The King’s English Bookshop in Salt Lake City, Utah; and Colleen Callery of Books Are Magic in New York City, with additional information provided by Quail Ridge Books in Raleigh, North Carolina.

Take a look below at some of the key points booksellers discussed during the session:

Dragonfly Books

  • Dragonfly uses Google Voice, which is linked to Krammen’s e-mail address and can be accessed via phone or desktop. Krammen has the messages sent to her phone, so she can respond easily. Any text messages sent by the store use this service; personal phones are not used to send texts to customers.
  • Because the Google Voice account is linked to Krammen’s work e-mail address and not a general one, she’s the only one who has access to Google Voice. This isn’t a problem for a smaller store, she said, but larger stores that might have many employees monitoring texts should link to a more widely accessible e-mail address.
  • The service is only used for orders. A few regular customers are comfortable texting the store with their orders instead of calling or e-mailing, and other customers prefer to be notified that their book has arrived in-store via text rather than phone.
  • Dragonfly does not market or do promotions via SMS.
  • The service is not integrated with the store’s POS system; instead, it’s monitored manually.
  • Some customers respond to texts asking for book recommendations or to order another book.

Books Are Magic

  • Books Are Magic uses Twilio, a service that’s integrated into its POS system, Bookmanager. The service costs about $70 per year, but it depends on how many text messages are sent.
  • Bookmanager allows customers to choose whether they’d like to be notified about special orders via text message, e-mail, or phone.
  • The store only uses the service for orders. The service has a form template that can be altered to tell customers to not respond to the text.

The King’s English Bookshop

  • The King’s English uses Zipwhip, which costs $100 per month and can be accessed via an app installed on a phone or desktop (the desktop version can be accessed across multiple computers). It is not integrated with their POS system.
  • The store uses the service primarily for special orders. The store adopted the service because customers requested text notifications for their orders.
  • Texts are created manually rather than being made with a template.
  • Customers are able to respond to text messages and the store will respond. One customer who has a speech impairment loves the service, Holman said, and even used it to send the store a picture of himself, so they’d recognize him when he came in to pick up his order.
  • Right now, the store isn’t using the service to communicate with staff, but Holman said she is considering doing so in the future. The store is also considering using texting for marketing services in the future.

Quail Ridge Books

  • Quail Ridge uses TextMagic for SMS services.
  • While the store’s POS system, Anthology, includes a texting service, it only allows for a text message to be sent to one person at a time. TextMagic allows the store to send a message to multiple people at once.
  • The service is mainly used for special orders. The store asks customers if they’d rather be e-mailed, texted, or called to be notified about special orders, and it has found that customers respond better to text messages than other options. The store requests that customers do not reply because it would take up too much staff time to respond to messages.
  • The store makes sure to respect customer privacy and does not use texting for promotion and marketing.
  • The store created simple templates:

    • “-DO NOT REPLY- Your special order has arrived at Quail Ridge Books! We’ll keep it under your name for 2 weeks. Please call 919-828-1588 with questions. Thanks!”
    • Reminder if the book has not been picked up: “-DO NOT REPLY- Just a friendly reminder. You still have a special order on hold at Quail Ridge Books. Please call 919-828-1588 if you have any questions.”
  • Store should make sure the phone number given by customer can receive texts and is not a landline. Even some mobile phones (flip phones) cannot receive texts. If a landline has voicemail or someone answers, the program will assume the text went through. There are websites that allow checking numbers ahead of time to eliminate those that are landlines.
  • TextMagic allows scheduling of bulk texts for a certain time. The store finds this especially helpful for special orders that are received on a Monday but that cannot go on sale until Tuesday; it uses the service to create a bulk text for those on Monday night and schedules the text for 9:00 a.m. on Tuesday.

Following the meetup, Sarah Pishko of Prince Books in Norfolk, Virginia, said that she signed up for Google Voice. Google Voice for Business starts at $10.00 per month, she added, and users can link the service to a personal Gmail address not associated with a Google Suite account for free.   

Said Pishko, "Today's meeting was extremely useful to me. We've had people ask about getting a text, and now we'll be able to do it as well as send one text to a group of customers. This will be great during the holiday season."