SMS marketing, or text message marketing, is the latest marketing strategy embraced by ecommerce marketers. If you find yourself wondering what is the difference between SMS and email marketing, keep reading to learn more and see how both strategies can work in tandem.

SMS vs. Email Marketing: How do they compare

In this guide, we’ll talk through the different benefits of email vs SMS marketing and how to combine the two for one solid, cohesive strategy.

SMS Marketing

While similar to email marketing in terms of the goal of converting a potential customer, SMS is a very different channel. We’re talking about different rules, regulations, and even the style of communication. 

Regarding rules and regulations, SMS also has a lot more structure than email. For example, carriers only allow you to send one follow-up text message for a cart abandoner and that message must be sent within 48 hours of abandoning. Seeing as this channel is still considered ‘new’, it’s not surprising to see that it’s implemented rules and regulations at the get-go with how email marketing has evolved over the past few years with CASL and GDPR compliance. 

Probably one of the most attractive parts of SMS marketing is that it’s relatively easy to get set up quickly. The different SMS tools available make it extremely easy to connect your SMS program with your ESP as well as set up your initial messages and automation. With SMS being a text, the length of the message is less important than the message itself. It can be a great, quick way to connect with your audience on new products or exclusive sales.

In addition to the startup time, SMS marketing is a relatively low-cost channel compared to the top of funnel channels like paid media and generates strong ROI. Brands pay based on how many people a message was sent to, how long the message is, and if they’re sending from a dedicated shortcode or not (dedicated shortcodes are often more expensive and have a per month cost). In a 2021 benchmarks report from the SMS platform, Attentive, their customers saw an average of 20.5% of total online revenue from SMS and that customers in the e-commerce industry generated $71 for every dollar spent on their text message marketing programs in 2020. That’s a big deal!

Email Marketing

SMS marketing shouldn’t replace your email marketing. Simple as that (and we’re not just saying that because we started in email marketing!). SMS can pair well with email in terms of reinforcing messaging, especially around key holiday sales and product launches subscribers may have missed in their inbox. While SMS is good for some consumers who are texting more regularly, not all audiences respond well to SMS so it’s best to continue using both channels together. 

Looking at benchmarks for email marketing in 2021, HubSpot reported that there are still 4 billion daily email users and that email remains a lucrative channel generating $42 for every $1 spent (still pretty amazing even considering Attentive’s ROI for SMS). Don’t worry, email is very much alive, SMS is just a great new pairing to go along with it!

Another benefit to email marketing is the message and design itself. SMS is great for quick updates and shortened copy, but sometimes you need to add additional context, feature multiple products, or create a more visual user experience than what SMS is capable of doing.

SMS + Email = the perfect match ❤️

According to a 2020 Sendgrid report, people prefer to receive both email and SMS communication, as long as messaging is seamless and the experience is positive

Image6 1

4 Tips for a cohesive SMS and Email Marketing Strategy

Tip 1: Timing is everything

You don’t need to hit your subscribers for email and SMS at the same time, especially because there’s likely overlap in lists. Space out your emails to be sent at alternative times from your SMS. 

For example, take a look at this cart abandoner email and SMS from Anthropologie. They send their cart abandoner email 4 days after abandonment at 8:58 PM. Their SMS message waits ~30 minutes and goes out at 9:21 PM:

Anthropologie 2021 10 02 0058 saturday Circle back to your cart 3 253x300 Image4 1 300x300

While a 7 AM or 8 AM email send may be appropriate, SMS is more personal and invasive which is why many SMS tools have quiet hours policies to ensure you’re not sending during early morning or late at night. For example, Chubbies used an earlier send time for exclusive access to a new collection via email, sending their email at 8:46 AM. Their SMS didn’t send until later around lunchtime at 12:11 PM. Notice how these messages echo each other! While the same CTA, they are communicated differently and tailored to the channel they’re sent through:

Chubbies 2021 08 28 1246 saturday EARLY ACCESS REWARDS MEMBER EXCLU2 126x300 Image8 1 300x300

Tip 2: Plan your email and SMS calendar in the same calendar 

Whether you’re using a tool like Trello or a simple spreadsheet for calendar planning, incorporate both SMS and email planning in one place. This allows you to see overlap and plan for when messages are deployed as well as prevent mixed messages (i.e. email promoting one discount while SMS promotes an entirely different discount at the same time). Here’s a very basic calendar using jewelry brand, Audry Rose, to see exactly when emails and SMS are being sent out to avoid overlap but reiterate messaging across channels: 

Image2 2 1024x583

Tip 3: Segment, segment, segment

We all know this and it’s still something many e-commerce email marketers struggle with within email alone. SMS has a unique opportunity to a segment on those who are actively clicking in SMS who have yet to purchase (similar to email, but many times intent is higher and the message is specific to one CTA vs. many). Depending on the SMS platform and integrations you use, you can also segment by Shopify metrics or ESP-related metrics. 

Tip 4: Promote your Text Club via email 

Unless you’re starting a brand new email subscriber list, you’ve likely got more email contacts than SMS contacts. There’s an opportunity to cross-promote your SMS text club via email like many of the brands in this list to collect more SMS subscribers using the contacts you already have in your database. 

For example, this email from OUAI haircare is a great way to entice people to sign up for texts as those SMS subscribers get exclusive access to Cyber Monday deals. 

Image5 1 622x1024

We’ve also seen success with messaging percent off promotions, even if a small percent off like 10% or 15% once someone joins the SMS list. For example, Duluth Trading Co. uses a 10% off coupon to entice people to sign up for their SMS list. Instead of having a button CTA to fill out a form, it asks recipients to text a code instead. Both ways are effective in collecting consent for SMS messages. 

Duluth Trading Company 2021 09 28 1704 tuesday 10 OFF When You Join The Duluth Te2 279x300

SMS and Email Marketing Tools and Platforms

Why make your job harder than it needs to be? Using a combination of SMS and email marketing tools, you can ensure that your team (no matter how big or small!) is set up for success. Here are some popular SMS platforms that are working with many e-commerce brands today: 


This option may make the most sense for those brands already using Klaviyo for email marketing as you can integrate SMS within the same platform. This makes it easy to plan communication and ensure you’re not sending the same message at the same time across the two channels. Learn more about Klaviyo’s SMS offering here.


Attentive is an SMS-specific platform that allows marketers to send messages, automate messages, and have two-way conversations with customers. With integrations with popular email service providers like Klaviyo, MailChimp, or Sailthru, you can pass data between Attentive and these platforms for segmentation purposes. Learn more about Attentive here.


Similar to Attentive, Postscript is another SMS sending platform that plays nicely with Shopify e-commerce brands. Postscript may be better suited for those smaller businesses looking to dip their toes into the SMS world without a large commitment and cost but the features are widely the same as Attentive with the ability to send two-way messages, create segments using Shopify data, and more. Learn more about Postscript here.

The SMS tools mentioned above are by no means the only platforms out there with the ability to send SMS. ActiveCampaign, Twilio, and Drip are other platforms among SMS tools. If you’re just getting started with SMS, we encourage you to look around and see what makes the most sense for your brand given your audience size, product offering, and budget! 

Several omnichannel platforms offer SMS marketing along with email, push notifications, and more. A few tools to research and consider if you’re wanting to focus on your omnichannel would be both Braze and Iterable

If you’re looking for email marketing inspiration or SMS marketing examples, MailCharts is the place to go. With the ability to search through thousands of emails across popular e-commerce brands and industries such as apparel, health & fitness, subscription brands, and more, you can ensure your campaigns are a cut above the rest and use prior months/years to build and optimize your campaign calendar or journeys. 

The time is now

If you’ve made it this far in the article, you’re likely already convinced that SMS is the next channel your team needs to explore if they haven’t already. We encourage you to share this article with other e-commerce email marketers that are exploring the world of SMS, too!