Consumers shopping at a mall.


Executives are quick to blame online shopping for hurting bricks-and-mortar profits. What they don’t realize is more than most fashion consumers still value the in-store experience, and brands can easily capitalize on that with the easiest marketing fix in the world. It’s really simple: invest more energy, time and revenue in local search marketing.

In a nutshell, SEO, or search engine optimization, is the process of generating traffic from search results on search engines, including Google and Yahoo.

Local search is any search aimed at finding something within a specific geographic area (i.e — restaurants in Manhattan). Today, most retailers are at least partially online, through social platforms, a web site or business listings in online directories like Google My Business or Facebook Local. This is why SEO and local search is important to businesses with physical locations — it helps consumers discover your business in an organic search and can draw them in-store.

Most national bricks-and-mortar brands woefully under-invest in paid search and SEO, and it’s their biggest marketing failure. While admittedly unsexy when compared to other trendy channels or platforms, a few simple localized tactics can have an enormous impact on foot traffic and unlock the single greatest ROI in marketing.

Focus on Digital

According to a Forrester research report, $1.26 trillion of local retail sales were affected in some way by digital media in 2016. The report also projects that by 2021, mobile devices alone will influence $1.4 trillion in local sales. What does this mean? In addition to online sales, digital is a big driver of bringing consumers into local stores to complete their purchases. For some, the physical location is a place to browse and interact with experts before making a decision. For others who prefer not to wait for shipping, it’s a place they can quickly pick up a product they were checking out online.

Online shopping also provides retailers with the opportunity to collect and analyze customer data to understand their target audience and how they interact with the brand. What are people shopping for online? What features of your web site are they looking at the most, and what type of search queries and keywords draw them to your homepage in the first place?

Your digital marketing strategy should have two end results — one where the customer is drawn to your physical location, allowing you to drive up total sales, and one where you’re creating a unique and streamlined online shopping experience, for those consumers who prefer to shop without leaving their seats. If you can utilize digital properly, you’ll ensure the consumer will make a purchase wherever they land.

Ensure Your Web Site Is Helpful for the Consumer

Most people will start searching for a product on their mobile device or desktop with very general terms, such as “lengthening mascara” and then narrow down results by brand, reviews and price. They want to explore all available options and narrow it down to what they like best and what is the best bang for their buck. Once consumers find the perfect item (i.e. — lengthening mascara), they will look into local results — either by searching on your web site or on Google for your store location. Because of this, it’s important to always have an up-to-date web site with current location(s) details including store hours, directions, phone number, inventory, etc.

Nothing is worst than having a web site with outdated information — it’s a huge turn-off for consumers. As most shoppers are using their smartphones to conduct research (63 percent of millennials shop on their smartphones every day), a mobile-optimized, responsive web site is a must. Site features need to be easily accessible and resized to fit any screen dimension. A bad website can turn away even the most loyal customers.

Finally, make sure each web page answers any and all questions a customer might have. A few musts are an interactive map to your location, public transport information, driving directions and parking information, in-store events and workshops and local social media accounts. If you are staffed appropriately for customer service, add a click-to-call option for mobile users so they can connect directly with one of your team members on the phone.

Personalize!

Give consumers what they want — as part of your local search strategy, create product-focused search ads for brand-agnostic queries like “sandals near me” or “cheap sneakers.” This ensures that your store is showing up in organic search results, you can also reach a wide range of prospective customers who might not have stumbled across your name before.

By identifying what customers are searching for, you can personalize their shopping experience with ads that contain similar products, which might result in a larger purchase. Additionally, incentivize them to complete their purchase by providing personalized discounts and coupons using a re-marketing strategy that engages previous visitors. Have they had a certain product in their cart for a while, but have yet to check out? E-mail them a coupon for a discount if they complete their purchase. It shows that you care about their business and are willing to slash prices for them.

How National Brands Are Failing With Local Search

By now, even large brands and franchises recognize the importance of local search and how it impacts the customer experience. But what might surprise you is that they still struggle when it comes to local SEO strategies. Big brands benefit from exposure and brand recognition (think Sephora, Macy’s, Target, etc.). They have large marketing budgets and a strong online presence that can tower over bricks-and-mortar stores. However, time also needs to be spent focusing on the local retail shops.

While it’s hard for retailers to change their tried-and-true marketing strategies, it’s time to face the facts and the future — digital is here to stay, and you can either change with the times or get lost in the turmoil. The bridge between digital and in-store traffic has become a necessity in retail, and only those who embrace these new realities will strike gold. Ensure your brand can connect with customers seamlessly, whether in-store, online search or through the site. It’s all about making the connection before the shopper even steps in the store that creates a lasting impression and makes a loyal customer.

Remember to utilize listings; if your business can show up and rank well in the best social media (Facebook, Snapchat) and business review sites (Google, Google Maps), with your correct store address, phone number and hours,  more customers will find their way to you faster, happier and ready to buy. You might have to invest heavily in local SEO services in the beginning, but you’ll soon reap the benefits of your investments.

It’s time for smart marketers to break away from traditional measurement silos and treat offline and in-store sales with the same objectives. By combining your strategy to encompass the entire customer journey, from online research to in-store presence, retailers are able to convert sales and generate stronger revenues and incremental dollars from valuable, brand-agnostic consumers.

Alex Porter is president of Location3.

 

For More WWD Business News, See:

Analyst: Success of Asos Is Based on Strategic Pricing, Assortment

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