Push Notifications vs SMS: What to Choose?

Alex Danchenko

With over 6.8 billion smartphone users in the world, customers are constantly swamped by ads — subscribe now, watch this, buy now, do this, do that!

Although people check their phones an average of 58 times per day, they have an ultra-short attention span of 8 seconds. As a result, only ‘in-your-face marketing strategies’ win customers’ attention. 

What are these strategies? Top of the list and industry favorite is mobile marketing, including push notifications and SMS messages. Both are tried-and-true methods of reaching and converting customers at different stages of the sales funnel. 

But it’s especially important to know the right place and time to use each channel. Otherwise, you could risk losing customers or even bagging a legal fine. 

SMS vs push notifications differences are distinct but knowing which one to choose can be especially tricky. In this comprehensive article, we compared push notifications vs SMS in terms of differences, pros & cons, and which provides better results.

Pros & Cons of SMS Messages

Before we hit the tips, let’s start with the basics — what is an SMS message? SMS, otherwise known as short message services, is an opt-in marketing technique that requires sending text messages to customers. 

Frequently, brick-and-mortar entrepreneurs and business owners use SMS messages to send promotional alerts, banking alerts, offer discounts, promote time-sensitive sales, and many more. Take a quick look at the example below.

SMS message

Pros of SMS Messages 

SMS messages is one of the most effective marketing channels for the following reasons:

1. Ubiquitous. SMS is the most ubiquitous messaging medium, despite fierce competition from email and push notifications. Every mobile device – smartphone and basic mobile device – can receive SMS messages, no matter location, telecom subscription, and internet status.  

2. SMS messages can be personalized. Personalization is a powerful emotional trigger. It gets people’s attention and also lets them feel special, more in control, and more responsive.

A state of customer engagement report revealed that personalization increases consumer engagement by 98%. You can leverage SMS custom features in your messaging campaign by tailoring your messages by:

  • Name
  • Address (zip code)
  • Birthday
  • Gender
  • Phone number

Below is a solid example of such messages:

Personalizing sms message

3. High delivery rates. Results from our case study revealed that SMS messages has an unbelievably high open rate of 98%. This means that your customers will almost always open your text messages. The icing on the cake is that 90% of consumers read text messages within 3 minutes.

4. Reliable. Unlike email marketing, most SMS apps don’t have spam folders and other filters. Business messages end up in the same folder as messages from family and friends. For what it’s worth, SMS is the most direct digital marketing tactic. 

5. Permission-based. SMS marketing requires explicit permission from customers (opt-in). They receive text messages because they literally asked for it. As such, your messages do not come off as intrusive, and customers tend to engage at a high rate.

Cons of SMS Messaging 

The disadvantages of SMS messaging include:

1. SMS messages are short. One part SMS messages are short and limited to only 160 characters. However, you can overcome this limitation by sending 2-3 parts in a single message.  

Even then, you can’t attach any images or audio files, and there’s a fairly high chance of broken links. 

2. It can be considered as spam. SMS messages can easily come across as spam. Granted, you’re technically not spamming your customers because you have their permission. But remember that sending many promo messages and bombarding their phones with notifications can feel spammy, obsessive, desperate, and flat-out clingy.

The implication is obvious — they will take back their permission by unsubscribing, blocking you, or, worst case scenario, reporting your text as spam. 

3. Strict government rules. You are one illegal SMS message away from getting hit by a high fine. The government takes customers' privacy seriously, and marketers are mandated to follow the opt-in/opt-out laws of mobile marketing. Strict government rules, coupled with spam filters that can detect and stop spam messages, make it even more crucial to obtain explicit customer consent before launching any SMS marketing campaign.

Here’s a real-life example. Papa John’s Pizza was slapped with a $250 million fine for sending SMS alerts to customers (even after midnight) without their permission.

Pros & Cons of Push Notifications

Push notifications are mobile marketing channels built into almost every mobile app. This begs you to wonder, what are push notifications? 

Push notifications are mobile-first communication channels that send short, pop-up messages to users even when the app is not in use. App owners can leverage push notifications to grab users’ attention and convey updates, promos, reminders, discounts, and many more. 

Unlike SMS messages, push app notifications can include images, logos, URLs, emojis, text, titles, and other elements. However, just like every marketing channel, push notifications have their pros and cons. Below is an example of push notifications.

Push notification

Pros of Push Notifications 

When done right, push ads can effectively attract clients and keep them engaged for the following reasons.

1. Visibility. App push notifications have a high visibility rate because they pop up even when subscribers are inactive. Such messages also appear on your smartphone’s notification center or on top of all windows. 

2. Push notifications drive retention. Push alerts can help you boost your app retention. For instance, Rocket, an international food delivery app decreased churn of new users by 40 percent, thanks to triggered mobile pushes that were sent to app users who made no orders. This is facilitated by pop-offs aimed at re-engaging clients every now and then. 

3. Push notifications give valuable insights into consumer behavior. Unlike SMS marketing, push notifications allow app owners and marketers to track and understand how users interact with their apps. You can track and analyze texts, interaction time, and devices, thereby figuring out the notifications that bring the most engagement. 

4. Push notifications can be personalized. Geo-specific push personalizations can deliver a 5x lift on open rates.

5. Increased revenues. Using push notifications, you can return a user to your app to learn about payment, manage returns or order status, special offers, or to complete a purchase. For instance, fighting abandoned shopping carts is a big challenge for retail app owners. This is especially common with mobile apps with a record-breaking cart abandonment rate of 97%. 

App push notifications are an excellent reminder for users to return and check out their orders.  

Personalizing push notification

Cons of Push Notifications 

The disadvantages of push notifications include:

1. Mobile phone restrictions. Recent versions of iOS and Android phones require users to grant push notification access to app owners. 

2. Text limits. The character limit for Apple devices is 178, which corresponds with four lines of text. There are more push notification opportunities on android devices because the character limit is 240 for descriptions and 65 for titles.

3. Push notifications may be spammy. Most apps, including top guns like Facebook and Safari, utilize push notifications. Come to think of the number of push alerts users receive daily. This could irritate users and the consequence is they uninstall the app or block push messages altogether. Grave, isn’t it? 

4. Push notifications can be mistaken for pop-up ads. Push notifications typically pop up on a device without a prompt. Some customers may mistake them for pop-up ads –which are mostly spammy. 

SMS vs Push Notifications: Use Cases

Your target and KPI determine whether your push notifications and SMS marketing tactics are actually working. It’s advisable to use push notifications instead of SMS when:

1. You want to drive conversions and prompt purchases. Umico, an app that offers a marketplace, loyalty program, and mobile bank features to its 2.5 million customers, recorded a 150% increase in purchase frequency using push notifications. 

Also, there was a 20% decrease in cart abandonment, making push notifications better than SMS in luring consumers back to their purchases. 

Using cases

How can our team at Reteno do this for you?

  • We will collect user data from your mobile application, website, CRM system, loyalty programs, etc.
  • Then we unify the data in one profile.
  • In addition, we will form segments to provide communication in different channels (app push notifications, emails, app inbox notifications, plus widgets)

2. You want to reactivate inactive customers, convert app users into paying customers, and grow sales through personalized messages. Rocket, an international food delivery company, operating in over eight countries, skyrocketed its order rates by 65% in six months.

Reactivating inactive customers

How did we help? The Reteno team created separate segments and different campaigns to complete each task. We can help you achieve your goals too. Sign up today

3. Launching a new product. SMS messaging is your best option to inform your customers when promoting a new launch. Example of SMS message:

Launching a new product
Source: yotpo.com

When to Send SMS Messages

In SMS marketing, there are the good, the bad, and the don’t you dare. You want to impress and not irritate your target audience, so here’s when to send SMS messages right into your customer’s inbox: 

1. Appointment reminders. Leverage SMS notifications to notify your customers about booked appointments. That way, you are sure your clients won’t forget or show up late. 

2. Urgent alerts about customer orders. If your business is planning an event, you want to keep your customers in the loop about updates, cancellations, changes, and general details with SMS rather than email or other channels. 

3. Emergency alerts. For emergency alerts such as scam alerts, SMS works best as it’s ubiquitous and can be delivered to all mobile devices, no matter the internet status. 

4. Time-limited offers. SMS messages are a good way to convey time-limited offers, including birthday promotions, coupons, discounts, contests/sweepstakes, and polls. 

Do Not Use SMS For Long Form Content

Although you can send SMS messages with up to 480 characters, it’s recommended to keep your messages short, creative, and straight to the point. 

Never send long form content including case studies and articles via SMS. Otherwise, you’ll stand a high chance of losing instead of converting customers. 

When to Send Push Notifications

At this point, you already know what push notifications are, as well as their pros and cons. So, when is it right to send push notifications? The short answer to this question is to welcome, inform, educate, sell, and win back prospects. But let's see when to send them in detail: 

1. To advertise your business. Most push messages are promotional ads prompting users to take action. Don’t worry, push ads aren’t pushy. You can launch any advertising campaign, provided they are within the confines of the law. We recommend crafting short content riddled with emotional trigger words to advertise your product for better CTR and conversions.

Push advertising is one of the most profitable forms of digital ads. They have a high conversion rate and CTR. Some inspiring push notifications to stir up your mobile campaign include:

Push advertising

Be warned: only push notifications best practices can guarantee maximal results. 

2. To improve user experience. Push notifications can help you keep your audience informed about the latest updates and improvements. Keeping your audience engaged forever also involves getting feedback and reviews from them. 

3. To inform users about changes to their orders. Push notifications provide a good interface for notifying buyers of changes in their order status. We recommend supplementing these with SMS and emails to provide detailed information. 

4. To gauge app and social media activity. Most app push notifications have specific sounds that notify users of an incoming message or promo. In fact, this is a surefire way of making your brand and products memorable. 

5. To share stats and data. If your app is rooted in the finance niche, you can stand out by giving dynamic updates showing currency exchange rates, stock value changes, or even traffic graphs. This increases customer loyalty and open rate. 

6. To share opinion pieces on industry-specific trending content. For instance, news apps can share push notifications on trending topics such as religion, politics, celebrity gossip, etc. 

The above list is by no means exhaustive. Push notifications for mobile apps can also be used to send time-limited offers, offer discounts, make reservations, change travel plans, reduce abandoned carts, etc. 

Now, it’s clear that push notifications can produce great results, when used masterfully. In fact, you can combine both SMS and push alerts and send omnichannel messages. This works in such a way that users who don’t receive sms get push notifications and vice versa. So, considering the trends and anti-trends of mobile push notifications, when is it wrong to use this marketing channel?

Turn to omnichannel with 8 mediums to boost customer reach by 91%.

Do Not Use Push Notifications For Passwords and Money Related Updates

Let’s face it, it takes only a swipe for push notifications to disappear. It’s fleeting and not recommended for sending sensitive updates like passwords and financial transactions. In fact, stealing push notifications from smartphones is as easy as SMS messages. 

Typically, mobile push notifications are mediated by Google or Apple’s platform holder. If you belong to the 1% that actually read the terms and conditions of app use, you will find that confidential information, including bank transactions and passwords, is restricted via push notifications. This means that third parties can breach the data.  

Key Differences Between SMS and Push Notifications

Before jumping into either SMS or push notifications, here is a close comparison of their major differences. 

Opt-in Process

While push notifications and text messages require customers to opt-in/opt-out, each takes a different process. 

For push notifications, users need to download and install the app on their mobile device and then check a box to permit the app to send push alerts. For SMS, customers are required to give consent through a code, online form/questionnaire, or by simply replying ‘yes’ to a one-time opt-in offer. 

Route of Engagement 

While push notifications drive conversions via an app, SMS facilitates communication through traditional messaging. 


SMS notifications are limited to texts, emojis, and hyperlinks. In addition to texts, push notifications include images and graphics. 

Open Rates 

Texts have a high open rate of more than 95%. While push notifications have an average open rate of 20%, they have a higher conversion rate. 


SMS is usually charged on a per-message basis, while push notification package pricing varies depending on the plan. Generally, push notifications are cheaper. 

Final Thoughts

In the end, choosing to leverage push notifications or SMS messages, or even a combination of the two, depends on your business type and customers. 

To get started on the right track, first understand your customers at a deeper level. Collect data on their buyer persona, age range, gender, likes, and dislikes. This way, you’d tailor your mobile marketing campaigns to address their pain points. For better results, adopt a multi-channel tactic for continuous communication, improved retention rates, and higher conversion.

Bring to life any of your marketing ideas: with Reteno, freely use the mobile push and SMS channels. Unlike in Clevertap, you don't need webhooks and other tools because everything is available out of the box;)

Alex Danchenko


October 6, 2022

Vladyslav Pobyva


October 11, 2022

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