The majority of retail websites use some type of store locator to direct prospects to local points of sale.
At some point in the process, however, most mapping solutions redirect customers away from the website, requiring them to find their way to their local store on their own, with no control of the experience, or any power to bring them back to the store’s website later.
Nowhere else on a website would a digital marketer consciously end a web session with a visitor showing such strong buying signals, but most companies do exactly that when it comes to store location.
Fortunately, a new generation of tools solve this problem by embedding directions and even turn-by-navigation inside a company’s website – keeping customers’ web sessions active while delivering them to stores, and without sending them off to fend for themselves on Google Maps.
The best of these services are much more than store locators. In practice, they are actually complete website localization platforms that make it easy for companies to give each one of their physical locations its own web presence, with location-specific content, social media and turn-by-turn navigation, all on the company’s website so they maintain control of the customer experience all the way from the sofa to the cash register.
Here’s what to look for when seeking out a store locator
- Adapts to Mobile vs Desktop Use Cases
- Provides Space for Branding to Give the “Why” of the Visit, not Just The “How” of Getting There
- Uses Location Services to Reduce Customer Input Requirements
- Keeps Control of the User Experience
- Embeds Social Media Feeds and Allows Follows
Adapts to Mobile vs Desktop Use Cases
Most store visits start with research. In this mode, customers are likely on a desktop or laptop, looking up which stores they want to visit. At this point, the main role for your store locator is to present a good reason to get in the car, and let your customers know generally where their closest location is.
Once they’re on their way, the priority changes to simply getting the customer inside your store as expediently as possible. That means easy turn-by-turn directions with voice, and without any distractions of other stores competing for your customer’s time and attention.
A good Store Locator will recognize these shifts in priority and automatically present the relevant content. You need a single service to manage both scenarios to avoid the certain deathtrap of trying to manage multiple data sources about your stores.
This isn’t easy. The continuous evolution of mobile devices and browsers requires constant updating to cross-platform layouts and style sheets. The best practice for keeping up with these changes is to centralize their management with a SaaS approach.
Provides Space for Branding to Give the “Why” of the Visit, not Just The “How” of Getting There
The real power of the new generation of store location platforms comes from their ability to support the creation of unique landing pages for each and every local location or point of sale. With the potential for tens of thousands of points of sale, much of this content generation must be automated, but there should also be granular controls to determine what local store managers can and can’t update on their own landing page.
Having actual HTML web pages on your website for each location used to be a good local SEO tactic. However, since Google revamped its Places algorithm, this approach is less important. It’s more important that the content be updated regularly, which typically means giving limited control to local managers.
Uses Location Services to Reduce Customer Input Requirements
Every click you ask of your customers causes drop off.
Some Store Locators first ask for zip code to get nearest stores, then ask for address a second time to provide detailed directions. This is frustrating for customers at best.
Precise location services can tell you where your customer is automatically, so you can show the nearest store and provide detailed directions without any effort on the part of your customer. and allowing you to focus on why they should buy from you, not how to get there.
Related to this, you should always show your nearest store, even if it’s a hundred miles away. There is no benefit to telling your customer “Sorry I don’t have anything within 25 miles” and make them guess if a different radius would yield a better result.
Show the closest you can offer on a map, and maybe they have a friend in that town who’s happy to come in and make the purchase on their behalf.
Keeps Control of the User Experience
When you redirect a customer to directions on Google Maps, two things happen: first, they have left your website, perhaps never to return. Second, you hand over control of their map experience to Google.
The risk here is you can’t define which place names Google will include on your map. There’s a strong possibility that your location won’t be identified at all, meanwhile, your competitor’s location has a prominent place name, begging your customer to go there instead.
The solution is to (1) make sure any maps you have are embedded on your website, and (2) keep your directions limited to turn-by-turn, so customers don’t see alternative stores nearby.
Embeds Social Media Feeds and Allows Follows
It would be great if each store landing page listed upcoming events and other rapidly changing content for each location in your Store Locator: it gives that push for why someone should come to your store, it makes each location feel more local and it makes the Store Locator itself feel more dynamic.
But it’s clearly too time consuming to copy and paste this kind of info for each of your locations.
The solution is to chose a Store Locator platform that can embed your social channels automatically, either pulling from each location’s Facebook feed, or defaulting to a single channel from the main brand.
The benefit of such an approach is twofold: first, fresh, localized content enhances the marketing presentation on a company’s website just as the customer is getting close to making a buy decision (or at least a “visit” decision).
At the same time, given that you’ve already invested in social marketing, any new opportunity for your customers to subscribe to your social channel improves the ROI of that social spend. Your customers probably won’t seek you out on Facebook, but they might click a “like” button if something catches their eye while they’re getting their local store details.