By Jack M. Germain
Sep 29, 2020 5:11 AM PT
Toronto-based telecom company Unite Communications in July launched a subsidiary company called TextMeAnywhere to help retailers manage customer curbside pickup and other customer contact services during COVID-19 and beyond.
The new service uses a proprietary web application that transforms a business landline, VoIP, or toll-free number into a textable number. Its service area now covers all of North America and elsewhere unofficially.
One purpose of the service is to make it easier for customers to communicate with store personnel when arriving for curbside pickup. Patrons can also send text messages to merchants about any other inquiries.
Retailers deemed essential during the pandemic restrictions had an unintended advantage because they were forced to adapt from the beginning and provide curbside pickup as the only option. But now other retailers are beginning to follow, according to Brian Presement, CEO of Unite Communications.
Necessary for Survival
TextMeAnywhere gives merchants without multiple store numbers for voice and texting a way to provide that capability on an existing phone line. It is a business-to-business type service for any company that deals with the public.
Retailers have needed to quickly adapt to the demand for this new messaging option, frequently running into logistics issues when their business phone numbers are landlines. Many had to ask staff to manage multiple phone calls, send emails that get stuck in spam, or purchase mobile phones and numbers so their workers did not have to use their personal devices.
The TextMeAnywhere service turns the business phone number into a textable number and allows staff to easily chat with customers on the web application. The business number is likely already stored in the customer’s phonebook, so they know who is texting them, according to Presement.
“Some 150 million text messages are sent daily and go missing because they are sent to numbers that are not digital lines for texting,” Presement told the E-Commerce Times.
Curbside pickup has become a necessary option to offer customers. In fact, some shoppers will not consider doing business with a retailer or restaurant that does not offer curbside service. The TextMeAnywhere solution helps make the associated logistics to service curbside easier to execute for small businesses.
How It Works
TextMeAnywhere allows a merchant’s current business number to receive forwarded texts sent by customers, and merchants can reply to those messages.
The backend is similar to what happens with a cell phone. The servers identify the carrier of the received message. The client does nothing different. Set up takes less than 10 minutes.
The process works without merchants needing to set up complicated processes, purchase additional hardware, and advertise additional phone numbers. The text message exchanges happen via a web-based portal.
Only merchants need to use the portal. Customers can send and receive text messages with merchants as they do with regular texts.
The portal sends the merchant’s email account a notification of a waiting text message from a customer. The merchant then goes to the web portal using a web browser on a computer or with a portal app on a mobile phone to read and respond to the customer’s message. If the merchant is logged onto the portal during the store’s business hours, a notification sound alerts the merchant directly.
It is fast, modern, convenient, and in-demand, according to Presement. The web-based messaging portal eliminates the pressure businesses face in being forced to have a new number for texting.
“Ninety percent of people prefer texting to voice messages. They don’t want to wait on hold,” he said about the new system’s reliability.
The penetration rate for mobile phones in North America is 92 percent. People check their texts much more quickly than they do their email.
“Texting has an average time to open of 90 seconds. An email has an opening delay of 90 minutes. Texting gets a lot more attention,” said Presement.
In addition, SMS messages see a 98 percent open rate, whereas emails only see a 20 percent open rate. Texting is the preferred communication method for most customers, he said.
Right now the TextMeAnywhere service is a one price fits all model at US$15.95/month, noted Presement. That pays for unlimited incoming text messages and 500 outgoing messages. After that, it is a penny per message. The company’s website also lists a $30 activation fee.
Unite Communications has operated for 20 years. Presement spun off the texting service to fill what he hopes will be a waiting market. It is a separate company with its own infrastructure and staff.
“Our biggest challenge is getting the word out. The battle is showing people that this is a service they didn’t know they needed,” he said.
His goal is to enhance the service every quarter. We are working on a feature list. One of the first new features to add will be a keyword auto-response function.
A Safe Gamble?
Unite Communications may have picked a good time to venture into this wide-open field, noted Charles King, principal analyst at Pund-IT.
“As Shopify’s recent massive jump in share value indicates, companies outside the Amazon sphere continue to struggle with establishing and managing virtual business transactions. Unite seems to be in the right place at the right time,” he told the E-Commerce Times.
Businesses, especially smaller companies, have a high bar to mount when it comes to effectively addressing and managing the mobile transactions that an increasing number of consumers take for granted, he observed.
“If Unite Communications can supply the services those businesses need, it could become an invaluable ally in the next phase of online and mobile commerce,” King suggested.