Texting remains a very popular means of communication, but 5G's rollout is stalled

The new 2021 State of Texting report from Zipwhip revealed it will be "years" before 5G's widespread availability.

Teenage Girl  reading Text Message

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Of the many ways COVID-19 has affected the workplace, new research revealed a significant change in the way businesses and consumers communicate: The business texting platform Zipwhip found that 70% of businesses are texting customers. The 2021 State of Texting report charted the traction of business texting, which gained popularity due to the crowding of channels such as email. The advent of the pandemic dramatically accelerated the adoption of business texting. Research revealed that 83% of texts are read within 30 minutes, but many are seen and read within three minutes.

But don't look to 5G to immediately boost texting further. Only 33% of consumers use 5G on their personal phones today. 5G rollout has been slow, and it's now estimated it will take years before there is widespread availability.  Also, not every mobile device can support 5G. 

Pandemic-fueled texting

Of all businesses that began using text to communicate with their customers in 2020, 34% said they did so as a result of the pandemic, and 77% of those businesses said they plan to continue to use texting for business after the pandemic is over. With safety protocols in place for nearly a year, consumer behavior and demand have shifted, and the increased use of business texting has matched that need. More than half (58%) of consumers said that text is the best way for businesses to reach them quickly, compared to phone calls, or emails.

Fifty percent of respondents said they're sending more text messages since the pandemic, 36% said the number of texts hasn't changed, and 14% said they were sending fewer. The boost in text messages was for "checking in with family and friends" (87%) and "communicating with colleagues or my employer" (49%). Other texts were about appointments (44%), home deliveries (43%), curbside pickup of orders (39%), school updates (28%), and COVID-19 testing updates (22%).

Businesses were texting consumers—the report said 83% responded "yes" when asked if they were sent a business text in 2020, and only 17% said they did not.

"Most businesses have realized over the past few years that texting was their missing communication channel, and for the remaining few who hadn't yet, COVID-19 was a wakeup call," said John Lauer, CEO of Zipwhip, in a press release. "The overnight shift to remote work, remote socializing, remote errands, cemented the need for a quick and easy way to communicate with customers. After forming this habit for the last year, we're not going back."

SEE: Return to work: What the new normal will look like post-pandemic (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

Consumer reliance on phones

In-person interactions were severely curtailed and even now, the minimum requirement of masks and social distancing continue to be encouraged—and people are relying on their phones to communicate, with 64% of consumers spending more time on their personal cell phones daily, and of those, 26% spend more than four additional hours a day on their devices. 

The need for news and to check in with loved ones was strong during the pandemic. Consumers start their attachment to their devices early in the morning, with 67% of consumers checking their phones within five minutes of waking up in the morning, and 34% checking devices immediately—a 62% increase from last year. 

Payment over text: A huge opportunity

This year, Zipwhip projects a big opportunity for businesses to meet a major consumer want: To make payments over text. Nearly half (46%) of consumers say they would like the option to pay by text—if done securely, of course—but only 29% of businesses responded that they would consider accepting payments by text. 

Shops that are currently open, even with reduced or limited hours, adopted contactless payments like Apple Pay or Square (45%). But the report stated that "the real opportunity" is in payments by text since the buyer and seller can be in different locations. Last year, the report sponsor Zipwhip, along with Authvia launched TXT2PAY, which lets customers make secure payments by replying to a payment request text with the last four digits of their phone number. 

Pay attention to consumer needs

This year, businesses should take advantage by capitalizing on additional texting preferences from their customers; consumers said that the most valuable kinds of texts they received from businesses in 2020 were appointment reminders (64%), shipment and delivery updates (48%), and discounts on products or services (29%). 

The pandemic wrought a slew of challenges, but 2020 brought natural disasters or other property damage to businesses (25%), revenue decreases (36%), and a reduction in staff (21%).

But most of the 2,000 businesses and consumers surveyed in December 2020 through SurveyMonkey said they were optimistic for 2021. When offered a scale of one to five, in which one is not-at-all optimistic and five is very optimistic, businesses responded with an average of three and a half.

There was also good news for those hardest hit during the COVID-19 crisis, small businesses as 36% of consumers said that since the start of the pandemic, they are buying more from small and local businesses. 

The pandemic, the report stated, amplified consumers' addiction to their smartphone devices and texting is the most frequently used feature, even "outpacing phone calls." The majority of users (63%) use their phone's texting app, followed by Facebook Messenger (15%), WhatsApp (8%), Snapchat (5%), and other chat services trailing behind with 1% to 2%, Line (2%), Google Hangouts (Gchat) (1%), and WeChat (1%).

5G adoption was stalled because consumers said there was "no need" to upgrade (28%) or the price of 5G-enabled phones was too high (20%). 

What businesses can learn from the report

Businesses use texting primarily for scheduling and customer services, and businesses that offer texting should make it clear that is a way they can be reached—via their website, social media, and even employee email signature. They can also add a "Text or Call" or "Click to text" button on their website. Phone calls are becoming less effective, with respondents because many do not answer phone calls from unrecognizable numbers, and voicemails are often left not returned.

Key insights from the report: Texting is the fastest way for a business to communicate with customers; more businesses adopted texting in 2020 as COVID-19 created a need for better communication; the pandemic prompted consumers to send more texts than usual; texts about appointment reminders and shipment updates were most valuable to consumers in 2020; businesses lack awareness around TCPA (Telephone Consumer Protection Act) best practices; text payments may be a missed opportunity for businesses, and lastly, COVID-19 and natural disasters had major impacts on businesses in 2020, but their outlooks are optimistic.

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