Traditional text messages between mobile users are beginning to dry up in China, The Next Web reported on Friday (April 19)—and that could be a sign of things to come for U.S. retailers that use texts for promotions. The problem: If customers abandon text messages, it will be much harder to track them down on other messaging services.
According to figures from China's Ministry of Industry and Information Technology, over the past year, person-to-person text messages in China fell to 120 billion in the first three months of 2013 from about 135 billion during the same period in 2012—roughly an 11 percent drop. Meanwhile, mass texts sent to multiple users jumped to 110 billion from 94 billion during the same period. That's a 17 percent jump, and it means almost half of text messages in China are now mass messages.
Have Chinese mobile users just stopped sending messages? Hardly—use of instant messaging apps is up 37.6 percent year-over-year. Instant messaging is still tiny compared with conventional SMS texts—roughly 22 billion IMs compared with 230 billion texts. But the disadvantage for anyone sending mass texts is that all you need for an SMS text is a phone number, while with IM, you need to know which IM service and what the user's name on the service is. That's much harder to collect.
That migration to IM and other forms of messaging may end up being unique to China—but that seems unlikely. U.S. mobile users are at least as spam-averse as China's. At the point when text users begin to get fed up with non-personal messages, they may switch off texts entirely. If you're a retailer whose mobile marketing depends on reaching customers that way, you'll have to scramble to learn details of customers' other communication channels (through a loyalty program) or get them to keep your app loaded and alive.
Compared with sending texts, that's going to be more complicated and less effective—and the sooner you start preparing for the end of texts, the less painful that migration will be for you.
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