Email Marketing vs. SMS Marketing: What’s the Difference?
Compliance, Ideas / Inspiration

Email Marketing vs. SMS Marketing: What’s the Difference?

Mindy Regnell
March 14, 2023
Reading Time: 6 minutes

One thing all ecommerce marketers have in common is their never-ending quest to engage with—and grow the lifetime value of—their subscribers. Email has been their go-to marketing channel for decades. But over the last few years, SMS marketing has become an increasingly important part of ecommerce marketing strategies.

As more marketers embrace SMS marketing, they’re realizing that their SMS strategies should not be carbon copies of their email strategies—nor should SMS be subservient to email. What works well on email won’t necessarily work well on SMS, and vice-versa.

Instead, these two communication channels should be treated as equal and complementary.

So when we think about email marketing vs. SMS marketing, it’s helpful to frame the discussion around what makes them different—not what makes one better than the other.

With that in mind, what are the differences? And how can ecommerce marketing teams get the most out of SMS, specifically?

Functional Differences Between Email Marketing and SMS Marketing 

First, there are some logistical and functional differences between email and SMS marketing. These include things like pricing, message length, and compliance—which can affect how you approach each channel.

* May vary slightly by vendor

* May vary slightly by vendor

Email vs. SMS Pricing Structures

Most email platforms base their pricing on two factors: the volume of email marketing campaigns you send each month and the number of subscribers you have. This means marketers pay a flat monthly fee for the ability to send up to a certain number of emails. Costs range anywhere from free to $1,000 or more per month. 

  • Klaviyo, for instance, has a free plan that lets marketers send up to 500 emails per month and a $45 per month plan that includes 15,000 emails. 

  • Mailchimp’s free plan includes 1,000 emails per month. Their second tier includes 5,000 emails for $13 per month. And their premium plan is $395 per month for 150,000 emails. 

In addition to the monthly subscription charge for your SMS marketing platform, SMS has a per-message cost structure. This cost may vary depending on how many text messages you send each month (i.e., sending more messages can unlock better per-message rates). Additionally, regardless of the platform you use, you will be subject to carrier fees—which may be included in the per-message cost or broken out into a separate line item. You can learn more about Postscript’s SMS pricing structure here.

Also, keep in mind that the cost for text messages containing images or GIFs—a.k.a. MMS messages—differs from the cost for plain text messages.

Finally, there are nuances to how you pay for your message sends on any given platform—email included. Some platforms use a credit system in which you purchase sending credits upfront and lose any credits you don’t use within a specified period of time.

Pricing can affect how you use these two channels. Email is a great channel for blanket communication, because sends are “included” in subscription fees (up to a certain point). With SMS, on the other hand, it’s important to find your sending sweet spot in order to maximize the ROI of each message—whether it goes to your full list or a smaller, more targeted segment. 

Email vs. SMS Message Length

Emails can be any length you want, and they can contain as many images or videos as you want. They’re great for highlighting lots of products, sharing customer stories, and giving subscribers multiple ways to engage with your brand.

SMS messages are limited to 160 characters without emojis and 70 characters with emojis. If you exceed this limit, you will be charged for additional messages. This means you want to use shorter, punchier copier and present one clear call to action. (Keep in mind that Postscript allows up to 1600 characters for MMS messages, whether or not they include emojis.) 

Email vs. SMS Opt-Out Compliance

Email and SMS have different opt-out requirements. Email compliance is pretty standard. Just include your physical address and an unsubscribe link in the footer of every email, and you’re golden.

SMS compliance regulations, on the other hand, require you to give subscribers a clear option to unsubscribe once a month.

Which Performs Better: Email Marketing or SMS Marketing?

This is a tricky question, because performance means different things to different merchants. But when it comes to standard KPIs—like open rate, clickthrough rate, read time, and ROI—SMS marketing outperforms email marketing by a mile.

Data shows that people are more likely to receive, open, and read your SMS messages than they are your email messages.


SMS vs. Email Open Rates 

People read text messages way more often than they read emails—almost 5 times more often, in fact. The average open rate is 20% for emails and 98% for SMS messages

SMS vs. Email Clickthrough Rate (CTR)

Text messages get higher engagement than emails. The CTR for SMS messages averages 10%, compared to just 3.8% for emails. Couple this with the fact that 60% of all online purchases happen on a mobile phone, and it’s clear that text message marketing is a goldmine for ecommerce brands. 

SMS vs. Email Read Time

People also check their text messages faster than they check emails. The average SMS message is read within 5 minutes—whereas emails can go unread for hours or days. So if you have a time-sensitive message to deliver—like one alerting subscribers to a limited-time product drop or flash sale—SMS is your friend. 

SMS vs. Email ROI

While email touts an impressive 36X return on investment (ROI), we’ve actually seen brands on Postscript generate upwards of 100X ROI on their SMS marketing sends.

That being said, SMS is still relatively new—and just like we saw with email, results will level out as more brands adopt the channel. That means your strategy for using SMS will become more important—as will the platform you partner with.

3 Ways Ecommerce Brands Can Maximize SMS Results

We believe SMS has the potential to be merchants' number-one revenue channel. For some, it already is. Brands like Insane Labz are using SMS to drive 2x more revenue than email marketing with a third of the subscribers.

Here are three proven approaches your ecommerce brand can apply to tap into the power of SMS. 

1. Treat every SMS message as an extension of your brand.

While most merchants use promos and discounts to drive sales from SMS, that approach isn’t for everyone. Instead of being discount-centric, supplements brand Bare Performance Nutrition focuses on building culture and community.

“We offer [almost] no discounts, and that has encouraged us to develop a strategy focused on culture and community,” Austin Clare, Head of SMS and Email Marketing at BPN, said in this case study. “It has to be culture-driven rather than revenue-driven. Ironically, the culture-driven messages are better revenue drivers.”

In fact, when BPN shifted to a content-centric SMS strategy, they were able to drive $1 million in SMS revenue in just four months. Here’s an example of an educational (and conversational!) text they recently sent their subscribers:

BPN Content Text

So before you blast out a promo code, take a step back to make sure your SMS strategy aligns with your broader brand strategy.

2. Text with your subscribers, not at them.

SMS is an inherently conversational channel, so SMS subscribers are more inclined to participate in 2-way interactions with brands. Taking a conversational approach to your SMS marketing campaigns will help you get to know subscribers, create more personalized experiences, build brand loyalty, and ultimately drive more revenue.

For example, wellness brand Apothékary uses a conversational messaging strategy and tone to drive incredible results on SMS. We’re talking 75% clickthrough rates on VIP campaigns and 278X ROI on cart abandonment reminders.

“I think there’s something a little different with abandonment on SMS, where it’s just kind of like your best friend texting you a reminder,” Katie Magnus, Senior Marketing Manager at Apothékary, said in this case study.

It sounds simple, but a conversational approach to your SMS messages—even for “standard” automations like abandoned carts and browse abandonment—can go a long way. In this abandonment message, for example, Apothékary invites the subscriber to text back any questions they have.

Apothekary conversational automation

Just remember that conversations are a two-way street. When people reply to your texts, they want and expect a timely response. So, it’s important to have a plan for managing incoming texts and an SMS marketing platform that can facilitate 1:1 conversations at scale. 

3. Create a VIP experience for subscribers.

SMS makes a great VIP channel for loyal and engaged subscribers and customers. The immediacy of the channel (remember those read times!) is perfect for early access announcements and other “exclusive” communications.

For example, beauty brand Glow Recipe creates a VIP experience by serving up personalized content based on subscriber behavior and giving subscribers first dibs on major events and launches—like they did with this teaser text.

Glow Recipe Early Access

Make your customers feel like VIPs by:

  • Granting SMS subscribers early or exclusive access to sales, deals, events, giveaways, new products, etc. 

  • Launching a loyalty program for customers to earn points on purchases.

  • Giving subscribers a white-glove experience through welcome messages, personalized recommendations, and more.  

SMS Marketing is Easier with the Right Tools

Getting your SMS strategy right is a whole lot easier when it's built on a platform that’s constantly evolving based on changing best practices and technological capabilities. 

Posctscript’s easy-to-use, SMS-specific platform is designed to help ecommerce merchants grow their subscriber lists, develop and test messaging strategies, deliver excellent customer service, and drive sales and loyalty. To learn more about how Postscript can unlock the full potential of SMS marketing for your brand, get in touch with our team here.

Mindy Regnell
Mindy Regnell
Principal Market Intelligence Manager
Mindy Regnell is the Principal Market Intelligence Manager at Postscript. Over the last 15 years in ecommerce, she has run an online store, studied over 30 different ecommerce platforms, and tracked the latest trends. When she isn’t geeking out on SMS or ecommerce, Mindy can almost always be found quilting up a storm.