Text Shopping

Thank You, Text

A new trend—shopping via text—takes off as frequent shoppers bemoan the complexity of ‘traditional’ e-commerce

by: Rebecca Malinsky

Originally published December 17, 2018

CHAT AND YE SHALL RECEIVE Text an image of a Gucci brocade blazer (as worn by singer Florence Welch of Florence and the Machine, top) and a concierge service like Jetblack will text back shoppable options. ILLUSTRATION: MATT JOHNSTONE

CHAT AND YE SHALL RECEIVE Text an image of a Gucci brocade blazer (as worn by singer Florence Welch of Florence and the Machine, top) and a concierge service like Jetblack will text back shoppable options. ILLUSTRATION: MATT JOHNSTONE

“I’LL TEXT YOU,” said the salesman at the Celine store in the Woodbury Commons Outlet Mall in Central Valley, N.Y., this September after I inquired about incoming merchandise. And text he did, whenever he had insider information about new arrivals or markdowns. In addition to my phone number, he had my credit card info, so if he sent a photo of something I liked—such as a pair of blue plaid pants he pinged me recently—I could buy it simply by typing “Yes!” on my phone.

I suspected that the shopping-via-text thing was bigger than just one overeager salesperson, and my mother-in-law soon confirmed it, whipping out her phone at dinner to show me a particularly unfindable Louis Vuitton bag she’d coveted. A saleswoman she’d befriended in Paris had just texted her a photo to announce its arrival.

The more I’ve talked to retail industry people, the more it seems that every salesperson, brand and tech disrupter in fashion is getting into the texting game. Smart, considering that 2018 U.S. mobile shopping sales are projected to reach $210 billion by the end of the year, a 21% increase over 2017, according to Worldpay, an international payments-processing company. 

Some impatient shoppers, however, are frustrated by the arguably simple process of logging in to a website or app from their phone. Enter: the notably simpler text transaction, whether via a personal relationship with a salesclerk or one of the new text-shopping services. Here’s a rundown.

The Text Concierge

Jetblack, a members-only, $50-a-month concierge service launched by Walmart ’s tech incubator Store No. 8 in June, will deliver anything from Advil to Chanel ballet flats the same or next day following a text request from users (it is currently limited to the New York metro area but has plans to expand). 

Members keep their payment information on file with Jetblack, so there’s no pesky password or credit card info to type. You just text a description or photo of what you want (barring perishables, alcohol and prescriptions), and their wizards source it from nearly any vendor. 

“Texting forces simplification, it accommodates this ability for you to mind-dump something,” said Jetblack co-founder and CEO Jenny Fleiss, who started the service after finding that traditional online shopping had become a chore, the endless options a mental drain.

Shirin Green, 35, a Manhattan stay-at-home mom, uses the service for everything from drugstore staples to birthday gifts. It works for her because she’s often on the go and dislikes a phone’s browser tabs. She recently turned to it to find a dress that Barneys New York had sold out in her size, texting a screenshot of it to Jetblack. The service found one at a California Barneys and rush-shipped it to her. 

The Instagram Hookup

If you’ve ever clicked on a sponsored Instagram link and found yourself perusing earrings on an e-comm site, you know the app is a prime source of shopping inspiration. Clever companies are now fusing Instagram’s eye candy with the immediacy of text shopping.

WhatsApp, the global texting service, has been a boon for London-based jewelry designer Jessica McCormack, who’s found that adding her WhatsApp number to Instagram posts moves product, including a pair of earrings worth over a million pounds. “It’s amazing how many people prefer that mode of communication,” she said. Clients can text or call with their credit card information. 

Threads Styling, launched in 2009, features appealingly styled designer fashion in its Instagram Stories and Snapchat channels that can be shopped via WeChat , WhatsApp, iMessage or Facebook Messenger. You text with a personal shopper who can answer questions on size and fit, and help you buy the item through a secure form, bypassing the hassle of logging into a site and entering your email multiple times.

The Personal Text

To compete in our digital-shopping world, associates at bricks-and-mortar stores are now sharing their cell numbers with clients for easy texting about promotions and other individualized customer service. You can hand over your credit card in person to avoid texting your personal information wantonly. While Jetblack and Threads have methods of securing data similar to an e-comm site, texting your personal details directly is ill-advised. “Text messaging is not the safest way to do anything,” said Matthew Green, associate professor of computer science at the Johns Hopkins Information Security Institute. “It’s encrypted from you to the tower, but I really don’t think text messaging networks themselves are very secure.”

New York entrepreneur Josh Udashkin, 35, texts with salespeople at a few stores including Prada. The staff there know his taste and body type, and send him regular updates. “I do appreciate the relationship, that they will probably show me things that were not on every website and everywhere else,” he said.

Others, however, find all this texting invasive. New Jerseyite Terri Rosen, 60, recently gave her phone number to an associate at Bloomingdale’s. “He is still texting me all the time. And I’m not texting him at all. He texts me ‘Happy Thanksgiving. Is there anything you need for your holidays?’” she recounted. “The interesting part is, when I go back, he has no idea who I am.”