Gathering customer phone numbers and advertising their own phone numbers are two points rarely on the radar for marketers in e-commerce, yet both offer additional solutions to the main challenges for marketers: driving traffic to the website, increasing the number of conversions from browsing, preventing cart abandonment and remarketing.

If gathering a phone number from customers seems anachronistic, then, just for a moment, contemplate the projection that over 70% of all e-commerce transactions will occur on a smartphone by the end of 2017, a device which consumers carry everywhere, even the bathroom, and is used for texting, applications, calling, in addition to browsing. It can also be used for storing coupons and contactless payments.

Geo-target e-commerce with local numbers

Local search has gained in importance over the past few years and geo-targeted in marketing has evolved to match. While most associated local marketing with local services or a physical store, one way that smaller e-commerce companies can compete with large national and international stores is through concentrating their business and marketing on a local region.

In addition to using SEO to target customers, businesses can also consider including a local text-enabled phone number. The local number attracts customer looking for a product locally when they could be using an e-commerce business, and when customers don’t see a local number on an ad, they are also more likely to move onto a competitor.

Local numbers foster a number of beliefs that will encourage conversions, including:

  • Faster delivery time and lower shipping costs for local businesses; and
  • Issues with product or shipping delays can be dealt with through a person-to-person call.

Increase points of contact with text messaging

In addition to asking for the email address, e-commerce businesses should consider asking for a phone number to increase points of contact and improve customer relations. A more reliable way to locate and contact customers than email, a phone number can be used to text customers when they abandon a cart, send promos, coupons and sale announcements, and notify customers when their product has been shipped with the expected arrival date or time. After all, emails have now become disposable, while a phone number is something we all retain even when switching wireless service providers.

Text messaging for the time being trumps email in effectiveness with a 98% open rate as compared to an average industry-wide open rate of 21.73% for email. The open rates reflect customer preferences. In a survey by CFI Group, customers scored text messaging 90 out of from 100 and Facebook only received 66 points. Customers prefer text messaging over any other channel of communication, because it gives them power over when they read the text (90% read a text within three minutes).

Getting real, authentic phone numbers can be a challenge for any business, but there are few ways to counteract fake numbers. When asking for the phone number, explicitly state that it will only be used for texting and won’t be used to call the customer. Include incentives to input a real number through offers to send a coupon code for free shipping, a discount by text orupdates during shipping on arrival times. If the company has an associated app, the phone numbers may already be collected for them.

Know the customer with rich data profiles and predictive analytics

Collected through phone numbers, rich data profiles on customers can help improve target advertising and remarketing initiatives with detailed information on consumer behavior and demographics.

Phone numbers offer a surprising amount of publicly available data on consumers that can include income level, age, home ownership, level of education and more. Aggregated by data collection companies through online sources, the information can be used either to build a specific profile of a customer or it can be used to make predictions about their behavior based on patterns from similar profiles.

If the shopper is between 25 and 35, college educated, owns a home, has a certain level of income, the predictive algorithms can determine how likely it is that they will buy electronics over $50 in the next two months

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. Using that information, the e-commerce site can build customer personas, customize their remarketing campaigns to those subsets and then target the customers most likely to buy.

Meet the shopper on each device

E-commerce has moved beyond the point when a mobile friendly website was necessary—now all websites must be multi-device responsive and create a continual user experience across all devices. Or lose out on revenue: half of online shoppers start a purchase on one device and finish on another, according to a study by Criteo.

A shopper may start out on their smartphone in the morning, add a product to their cart and then abandon it. At work, they may check the offer on their desktop, move back to their phone during the commute, and then to their tablet at night.

E-commerce retailers can create a seamless, continual experience by encouraging shoppers to log on and introducing points of contact across all devices. For example, if a shopper moves to the tablet and visits the site, a chat message can ask the shopper if they can help them with their purchases. After an abandoned cart on the smartphone, a brief text message with a relevant new promo can invite them back.

Omni-channel experience

Once the domain of the virtual, online world, the rise of smartphones and other mobile devices are redefining the landscape for e-commerce marketing and increasing the importance of the phone number for online shopping.

For more than just a voice call, the smartphone offers a multi-channel experience from text messaging, browsing online, social media to various chat, messaging and other apps. That also means the smartphone offers access to multiple channels in one spot.

As smartphones reach 80% penetration in the U.S. in 2016, the device itself changes the way shoppers buy online to a multi-channel, cross-device experience. That opens up new touch points for engagement and a new channel for engagement—text messaging. Gathering phone numbers gains in importance for marketers as the nexus for tracking and connecting with consumers, wherever they are.

This article originally appeared in the November 2016 issue of Direct Marketing. 

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Olga Zakharenkava

Olga Zakharenkava is passionate about marketing and excels at helping businesses choose the right technology to solve their challenges. She spent the past 15 years immersed in marketing, tech and leadership, building great products and teams in startups and established enterprises. At Telmetrics (, Olga helps marketers interpret rich data from consumer phone interactions and optimize their advertising campaigns to convert more callers into satisfied customers.