Expert talk

Retailers Need To Think Locally To Survive

Store closures. Mass layoffs. Unemployment. Graphs showing downward trends. This has been the narrative of the retail world for over a year now. Some experts are dubbing it a “crisis” — others are more hesitant to predict the end.

No matter what lens you’re viewing the retail landscape from — be it a brand, agency, or SaaS provider — there is one common element that binds the narrative together: the consumer.

Consumer behaviours have undergone a rapid change over the past decade, thanks to two major changes in human communication: mobile phones and social media. The problem? Retailers haven’t been keeping up. Having a “mobile” element to your strategy and “presence on social channels” only scratches the surface. What’s expected today is seamless integration from every channel — true omnichannel — and an engaging social media presence that provides your consumers plenty of opportunities to let their friends, family and distant acquaintances know how cool they are for interacting with your brand. Give your customers the tools and inspiration to talk about you on social media from their mobile device and you’re halfway to retail domination.

Regardless of the amazing social campaigns you’re drumming up with your team, the non-believers in brick-and-mortar retail will tell you this: “If consumers are buying on mobile, then we should skip the store altogether.”

But it’s not that simple.

The “retail is doomed” narrative makes for an exciting news headline, but it’s nowhere close to reality. In fact, the NRF recently pointed out that 2017 has brought an increase in store openings: for every one company closing their brick-and-mortar, 2.7 companies actually opened stores. This complements the fact that Generation-Z (the next big thing after Millennials) favors brick-and-mortar shopping over the full-throttle e-commerce experience.

An integrative approach that blends online strategies with offline experiences– thinking of consumer behaviours first–is the solution to the retail ‘crisis.’

So how do we keep our brick-and-mortar stores open, and thriving? It starts with letting your customers know you’re here, and ready to welcome them with open arms (and Geofilters too.) Surviving in the retail landscape requires a thoughtful strategy of bringing nearby consumers to your stores.

Start with the simple stuff, then get fancy. Here’s how to do it.

Get Listed, Get Found

Google handles nearly 5.5 billion searches per day. Prioritize local listings for each and every one of your stores on Google first, then decide on your other key directories , based on your top demographics. If you’re not sure where to start, check out The Smart Network that helps you prioritize key directories. Consumers look for you online before they visit — and if they can’t find you, they’ll go somewhere else.  

Be Diligent With Details

New research out of Think With Google suggests that location-based searches are on the rise while location-specific words are declining. Essentially, users expect search engines to intuitively produce nearby results based on their geo-location. This means your local data needs to be squeaky-clean: your listings across the web must be accurate and up-to-date at all times to ensure Google trusts your brand. Optimizing for holiday hours, store closures and openings is key. If Google’s crawlers pick up on an inaccuracy, your ranking will suffer..

Get Reviews and Be Insightful

Consumer reviews are a crucial element on the path to purchase. Use reviews as an opportunity to build your brand’s credibility, and interact with your reviewers to build strong rapport and trust. As brands consistently try to humanize themselves, reviews are becoming an increasingly important platform to receive feedback and respond promptly.

Similarly, use your local data to gain insights about the people near your stores. When are they searching for you? How are they converting? Is your average star rating five stars in one area, and two in another?  What can you do to change that? Local data and reviews go hand-in-hand, as both allow you to make decisions about campaigns and assess the success of your brick-and-mortar locations.  

Be Platform (And Local) Aware

Social networks like Snapchat and Instagram have been trailblazing the local marketing scene in the past year. Understanding that consumers want to share constantly with their networks, both platforms have added localized elements to their offering: on Snap, you’ll find Geofilters, and on Instagram, location stickers (not to mention Geotagging). Instagram also allows you to browse stories by location hashtags.

Regardless of your demographic, it’s key to consider the evolving relationship in the local and social space. Even if you’re not targeting Gen-Z or Millennials, remember that social selling will continue to dictate authentic brand ambassadorship. If you’re targeting the ultra-social savvy, give your consumers plenty of excuses to share what they’re doing (and why it’s noteworthy) with their friends when visiting your stores.

In summary:

The retail space is undergoing a massive shift. But this can’t be dismissed as a crisis brought on by the advent of e-commerce giants like Amazon and eBay. Instead, this is an opportunity for retailers to kick their plans into high gear and connect with consumers in a way that’s meaningful.  

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