Shortcodes – Working with a Solutions Provider

solutions providerWritten: Stefanie Gray

Shortcodes are a fascinating marketing tool for retailers. We have seen some of the most benign SMS messages go viral in a matter of minutes and observed up to 80% redemption rates when a consumer clicks through an SMS message to receive a retailer’s mobile coupon. What makes SMS marketing so interesting is the creative ways retailers are using this medium to create a unique customer experience.

The following is a primer on shortcodes for those who are new to mobile marketing. Please note the information is for U.S. based messaging only.


When you text a friend that you’re running late for dinner, you are most likely sending a message to your friend using their mobile device number. This 10-digit number is a long code. Long codes are not regulated by the carriers, are fairly easy to obtain, and relatively inexpensive. However, long codes are not intended for commercial use. In other words, carriers will shut down long codes that are being used for promotional purposes and retailers open themselves up to law suits if caught using a long code.

Shortcodes, on the other hand, are 5- to 6-digit numbers specifically designed for use by commercial businesses to communicate directly with consumers. A key advantage of using a shortcode is the ability to send a lot of messages at a time at very high speeds. In addition to Short Message Service (SMS) messages, a retailer can send images and videos using Multi-media Message Service (MMS). 

Selecting a shortcode.

The first step to sending text messages to your customers is to determine the combination of digits you would like to represent the brand. When leasing a shortcode, the retailer has the option of leasing a randomly generated number or choosing a specific number. For example, the company BRAND could select the shortcode 37263 as their vanity code; B=3, R=7, A=2, N=6, and D=3 spelling out the company name using the numbers on a keypad. Another, and perhaps more compelling option, is to select a sequence of numbers such as 54321. Vanity codes are more expensive to lease than randomly determined numbers but have the advantage of being easy to remember.

Leasing a shortcode.

Shortcodes can be leased directly from or through a solutions provider. There are multiple advantages to using a solutions provider including filing the paperwork, setting up the initial campaign(s), and responding to carrier audits. It can take anywhere from 4 – 8 weeks before all of the carriers go “live” with the designated shortcode.

Messaging Plan.

In addition to acquiring a shortcode, you will need to determine how many messages you will send either on a monthly or annual basis. There are two types of messages:

  • MT or mobile terminated – these are messages retailers send to consumers.
  • MO or mobile originated – these are messages the consumer sends to the retailer. It is usually in response to something the retailer is asking from the consumer. Although, if a consumer has a question or wants to stop receiving messages, the consumer will text in something similar to HELP or STOP respectively to the shortcode.

Depending on message volumes, you will be charged either an all-inclusive fee or a per-message fee. An all-inclusive fee combines MT’s, MO’s, additional carrier fees and software service fees by your service provider. For large message volumes (typically multi-hundreds of thousands of messages per month or more), it may be more cost effective to pay a solutions provider a monthly fee for the use of their software to run your campaigns and pay separately for messaging fees as a pass-through cost from the service provider.

Working with a Solutions Provider.

There are many benefits to working with a solutions provider. First, a solutions provider will provide an easy-to-use web portal that will save you time when launching new programs and running reports.  Second, account management/assistance becomes more important as your message volumes increase. A solutions provider who has a lot of experience working with large retailers will ensure your campaigns run smoothly and the messages conform to current guidelines and policies. In addition, they will file briefs for special campaigns (e.g., sweepstakes) you intend to execute, manage and track usage as well as partner with you sharing best practices to deliver the optimal customer experience. Working with a solutions provider allows you to focus on creative ways to engage your customers.

Getting Started.

So, how do you get started sending text messages to your customers? Click here to contact CodeBroker.