Wal-Mart Learns Some Hard Mobile Lessons

There can indeed be too much of a good thing, especially when the good things are being sent as cellphone text messages. That's one of the lessons that the world's largest retailer learned in December when it trialed an opt-in mobile consumer program.

The program allowed for consumers to have short-duration sales messaged to their cellphones, theoretically giving them an advantage in pursuing those sales.

One person working on the trial—sworn to secrecy by Wal-Mart—said the group initially tried cramming in a lot of sales info into each text message. This was done on the theory that it would increase the probability of hitting on an item that particular consumer would want. "We were sending 10-15 in about three or four text messages," the manager said. "We learned that three messages is where the consumer says, 'I've heard enough from you, Mr. Retailer,'."

The trial involved hundreds of thousands of consumers, after the chain tried recruiting more than a million. Although the source wouldn't reveal the exact number, she did say, "About 10 percent of those we approached went for it."

The chain also learned that if they crammed a bunch of messages into as little time as possible, it went over better. Given that such constant messages might be thought to annoy consumers, the discovery was counter-intuitive.

Their theory? Consumers were believed to only check their text messages every few hours, so getting them all bunched up was considered less annoying. "The compressed time period alienated people less," the manager said.

Depends on the age of the consumer, I suppose. For younger consumers that live for their text messages, the results could easily be quite different.