Creating the nerves for retail organs – Retail data management 101

With technology evolving, and the extensive use of internet has given birth to cloud systems. Cloud systems have recorded a heavy growth in the past couple of years. Analytics is one of the main categories where SaaS products have seen a widespread  growth. Because of its usability, low maintenance, and cost-effectiveness, cloud retail systems (POS, ERP, eCommerce etc) have seen an exponential growth.

With huge data being recorded on a day to day basis retailers face a challenge of organizing, transfer and analyzing  the data as per their need. While many retailers prefer to create efficient reports in a manual way which turns to be a painful and time-consuming job. Other simply ignore to create smart reports which usually affects their decision making for the business. Due to unavailability of data sync platforms, many brands and retailers are finding it hard to move to these cloud systems because of their historical data recorded in their traditional on-premise systems. This also creates a blocker for syncing data across multiple systems used in an enterprise like POS, eCommerce and ERP systems which when efficiently used provides data transparency on all levels of the business.



The introduction of omnichannel concept has led retailers to go on a hi-paced growth. Retailers are sourcing and selling goods on multiple channels like e-marketplaces and multiple storefronts. Handling multiple channels and storefronts at the same time and having transparency of customer data, product data, inventory available and invoices across all requires time and workforce. This always results in an increase in overhead costs and a decrease in operating margins.

Business owners and managers need leverage cloud systems, the option of integrating with a large number of add ons and plugins which when used efficiently will lead to an increase in productivity. There are multiple products out in the market which make the data transfer from traditional systems to cloud systems seamless. The next important aspect to this is analysing the data as per the business requirement.

Business owners and managers when having a consolidated look at their products, customers, sales and inventory matrices over a period of time help them to make effective decisions. It becomes very easy for them to schedule a report at the end of the week and have consolidated stock order, customer sales or in transit reports which have been missing from most of the top rated retails systems.

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ShoppinPal recently launched POSxDATA, which enables you to get powerful custom reports and metrics to help grow your business, delivered to your inbox for free. Click here to take it for a run.

 

 

ShoppinPal’s Team & Culture

The ShoppinPal folks are a mission-driven bunch that’s out to forever change the lives of brick & mortar retailers. The bulk of our presence is in Pune (India), with couple of key employees working out of Houston (The USA) and Auckland (NZ). In the last few months we have excelled in team building and in solidifying our work culture, so allow me to share a few things that define and guide us.

shoppinpal team

1) A tremendous sense of ownership permeates everything we do. For a startup, it’s not enough to have a super smart team unless each member acts as a protagonist of his ideas and take initiatives, no less than the owner . We are very fortunate that every employee acts and makes decisions like a founder/owner, which has enabled us to assign meaty responsibilities to even our interns. Every single day I see stellar examples of people taking load off of each other and doing whatever it takes to bring fruition to the mission…and I’m incredibly grateful for that. 2016-01-27 13.22.57

2) Every teammate has a perpetual desire to learn, , solve seemingly impossible problems, and then share that knowledge. This not only makes each member a part of the input but also strengthens the interpersonal relationship of the employees. We’ve been very fortunate that several customers and partners have embarked on shared problem solving with us which has resulted in a wealth of open source software that will hopefully benefit thousands of retailers and developers in the years to come.

3) Commitment towards social causes. As they say and we firmly believe, core is more important than the periphery, we work both as a team and individually in various ways to do our bit for the society. Once a quarter, we organise outings for kids from local shelters, engaging them in some recreational activities and providing some moments of joy. . Here are a couple of pictures from recent ones that included tours of a world class horticultural center and an Army war memorial museum. We also have a “vacation allowance” which doubles if your vacation involves some volunteering towards a social cause.

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We have a Team+Tech foundation now that will enable us to shake up the industry. Stay tuned!

The Indian brick & mortar retailer’s dilemma…to digitize or not?

2 years ago, I would have gone to a mall (in India) to purchase a pair of shoes which I now can buy at a cheaper price sitting at my home with a guarantee of same day delivery. Moreover, with many players entering the e-commerce market we now have a plethora of choices for shopping online, as if the entire retail world has been served up on a platter to the consumer with a great selection of products and unbelievable prices. Electronics, Apparel, Books, Media you name it. Almost everything which was exclusively available at physical stores can be now bought via few clicks on your phone.
Implications for brick and mortar retailers
For most brick & mortar retailers, this dramatic shift in the retail ecosystem has adversely impacted revenues and growth. Showrooming has become quite popular and been a real pain — the shopper uses the information provided by the staff at the store but eventually makes the purchase online, sometimes even while he/she is in the premises of the store!

Realistic Retail Shop

Retailers’ recognize the need to collaborate with marketplaces, however only a fraction has jumped on that bandwagon due to technological and operational complexities. Besides the big3 (FlipKart, SnapDeal, Amazon) there are several other prominent national players (e.g. PayTM, ShopClues) and many niche/local ones as well. One of the biggest stumbling blocks is the use of a popular ERP/POS (Tally, for example), which only tracks their store sales and is completely disconnected from the catalog they need to create on a marketplace. More than maintaining a separate catalog, the killer requirement is the need for constantly syncing stock counts 2-way between the store and marketplace so that the retailer doesn’t run out of stock…which eventually results in the retailer getting suspended from the marketplace!
Further complicating the situation is that many retailers own multiple stores which then brings in new requirements around data sync across different store locations and virtual selling channels. Many POSes (Vend, for example) have stellar support for syncing inventory and sales data across multiple store locations. However, they don’t help when it comes to syncing data across e-marketplaces. Creating a brand new catalog for each and every marketplace along with manually monitoring inventory + sales has become quite a drag for retailers, and in most cases the business owners end up hiring additional staff to manage various digital channels. No wonder most retailers shy away from digitizing their operations and listing on marketplaces.

Online to offline (O2O) — bridging the best of both worlds

The key to winning in this Retailers need to play on their strength — for certain categories (e.g. Appliances) shoppers like to touch and feel the product before they commit, which provides physical retailers a big edge in these segments. ShoppinPal is in the process of jointly rolling out solutions with top marketplaces whereby consumers could reserve a product online and make the final purchase in-store once they visit. Also on our roadmap is the “try and buy” capability, which is most suited for apparel and jewelry.

Happy Realistic Retail Shop

Our vision is to bring true omnichannel to small and mid-sized retailers globally. Take our seller app for a spin and let us know what you think. We’d love to hear how we can help solve your challenges in this space.

India’s Retail Revolution

In the past quarter I’ve been spending a lot of time in India working with retailers of all sizes. Some of the biggest names in the private sector are making massive bets in the space, and at the same time smaller chains are looking for ways to establish a stronger relationship with their increasing mobile/digital shopper. I’ve noticed a few key trends, each of which deserves a post or two – so I’ll start out with a summary here and continue this topic as a series.

The 1st big trend I expect to see in the next 2-3 years is the rapid fire growth of the mobile POS. It will happen like nowhere else in the world. I believe it will be along the lines of the mobile revolution, whereby several nations and continents in the developing world skipped the landline. In the same way much of Indian retail will not see the legacy POS and will directly transition to modern cloud based systems. In the past 2 months we’ve been getting several enquiries from Indian retailers who want to increase engagement with their shoppers and drive higher foot falls to the store. This presents a phenomenal opportunity for m-POS vendors and other related services (cloud-based accounting, digital marketing, mobile commerce etc). However, I think the speed of innovation by dominant players in the west will not be enough, and like the mobile revolution we’ll see a slew of Indian product companies come up shortly that will address local needs in a cost-effective manner.

The 2nd key trend is behavioral changes in the middle and lower middle class that will significantly impact consumption. On one of my cab rides I got into an interesting conversation with my driver. He left his village over 15 years ago and came to Mumbai. Initially he was very hesitant to go to any restaurant or store that had even a slight upscale ambience. However over time he walked into some of these places and realized that prices are actually not that different and the experience is orders of magnitude better…in fact shopping for groceries at a store like Big Bazaar is a great weekend outing for the family. Many of his close friends shared the same hesitation, so he took each of them for a shopping trip to show that these places are indeed price-competitive and everybody is welcome. Now all those friends of his also shop at Big Bazaar and eat at the mall once a month. In fact some of them have even started shopping online. This is a major shift and the implication is that billions more will be consumed as a result of the shifting attitudes of the lower middle class.

Third there’s the war amongst the e-commerce giants — FlipKart and Amazon. Both have insanely deep pockets and they are putting the cash to good use, although some of their practices such as forcing merchants to sell below cost are questionable and have resulted in significant lash back from various groups. The big retailers are obviously scared of this new dynamic – the new kid FlipKart rose to a 10X valuation in less than half the time these big boys (e.g. Shoppers Stop) have been around. This war will be very interesting to watch and I’ll continue sharing my observations as we continue to work with players here.

You can beat eCommerce: Here’s How

In the last 10 years online shopping has come to roost. Amazon, eBay and others have turned the world of shopping upside down by offering a wide selection and addictive convenience to shoppers. Brick and stores have suffered as a result with fall in foot traffic, and resulting loss of revenue. However there’s hope dear hard-working retailer as you can fight online commerce on it’s own turf. Or in other words you can take advantage of technology breakthroughs to attract new shoppers and drive new sales right from your store.

What key advantages can I offer

New capabilities enabled by cloud POS systems, order-ahead services, and easy integrations with new shopping channels, will help you win the hearts and minds of shoppers in your area.

What technology breakthroughs do we speak of?

There are some amazing new tools that need to be availed of.

Cloud POS systems

Point-of-sales systems of today have evolved from the green-screen machines sulking away in a corner. The new breed of POS systems, such as Vend, LightSpeed, ERPLY, and ERPLY allow retailers to manage their stores from just about anywhere with an Internet connection. will let you manage your operations from a variety of devices (including tablets), allow easy upgrades, and also integrate with all kinds of 3rd party software. The last point is critical as we shall see.

Same-day delivery

Heralding a new era in local, new services have sprung up in major metros worldwide that allow for immediate delivery in densely populated areas. Deliv is one of those companies that specializes in same-day delivery for retailers. Their couriers pickup an order as soon as it is placed at the retailer and deliver to the shopper usually within the day. The cost is very reasonable and quite cheaper than next-day or even 2-day delivery by Amazon or at eBay.

eCommerce Carts right from your POS

Traditional eCommerce platforms were designed to best suit the need of online wholesalers, and not brick and mortar. Retail stores need a better solution that works directly with their POS to eliminate the need for managing different systems. Solutions such as ShoppinPal allow you to create a simple and fast online store right from an enabled cloud POS. They also allow you to plug your storefront in new channels such as PayPal, Facebook. Yelp etc allowing you to capture sales from local and social traffic. Finally they allow busy shoppers to order and pickup right at store, and for select metros even same-day delivery.

How does it all work together?

Solutions like ShoppinPal were created to help retail stores drive new revenue and simplify online commerce. Once integrated, they can read all your inventory, pricebooks and stock in real-time, render a storefront with pictures pulled in right from your POS, and further create an invoice right back to the POS once a sale is made. They further integrate with other popular consumer channels, as well as delivery services like Deliv. We are really excited about the future of retail and armed with the right tech tools, the market is yours to win.

How to Market Your Retail Business to a Specific Audience

A small retail business must have a unique niche, a strong company image and a meaningful connection with its consumers to succeed in today’s competitive retail landscape. Target marketing is the process of focusing marketing efforts toward a specific group of customers. Four commonly used target marketing types that companies can take advantage of include age, income-sensitive, gender-specific, and geographic target marketing.

Determine Your Niche

Using just one target marketing type is usually not enough. For instance, often times targeting an all-encompassing female audience as a retail business won’t cut it. To succeed, a retail business must have a niche, something that differentiates it from the competition. For instance, Lululemon, a yoga-inspired athletic apparel company, targets women between the ages of 25 to 35 that are interested in leading a healthy lifestyle in a fashionable way, explains Mary Charleson, president of marketing consultant company Charleson Communications. Through their niche, Lululemon continues to target the behavior of a unique demographic with store displays, a mobile app, brand ambassadors, and a blog that embodies company culture.

A great way to find your retail business’ niche is by finding out who isn’t being targeted in your area yet and pairing this deficiency with the right products, suggests Entrepreneur. In other words, if professional women above the age of 50 that enjoy playing golf have nowhere to shop for clothing, you can step-in and fulfill that need.

Establish a Strong Company Image

Once you’ve decided on a particular niche, it’s time to establish a strong company image. Forever 21 is an affordable fashion-forward clothing company with a fresh and young image, which is fitting since they target women in their teens and early 20s. Their black and white design puts the emphasis on the clothing and creates a striking contrast compared to other retail clothing stores. Forever 21’s image is bold and stylish, which tells their young consumers that the company is not afraid to be different. Additionally, Forever 21 puts geotargeting into practice by placing its stores inside malls, a common hang-out for teens and young adults.

A company’s image should speak volumes. It should tell your audience right away what your retail business is all about. And one way to speak to your audience right away is with a logo that represents what your store is all about. Some business spend thousands of dollars with a branding agency or designer for a logo that truly represents their brand, and some cash-strapped business even create a free professional logo using a logo design tool. Make sure that the finished result is eye-catching, will look great on both billboards and business cards, and gives shoppers an instant feeling of what your store is all about. The colors and layout you use in your logo should be consistent throughout the rest of your company image. Use your logo as inspiration for the company letterhead, product packaging, and website design.

Connect with Your Audience

Whether you have a brick-and-mortar retail business or an e-commerce website, it’s important to connect with your consumer through the communication method he or she typically uses. For retail stores targeting women, women’s relationship-centric behaviors mean that they spend 40 percent more time on social network sites than men, reports a marketing study by Jack Morton Worldwide.

Furthermore, the content you create to establish a business-buyer relationship needs to be carefully crafted to appeal to the group’s interests, suggests Social Media Examiner. It’s not enough anymore to share lifestyle articles or DIY tutorials. Content and social media user engagement must be tailored to your niche. If your retail business specializes in maternity clothing for stay-at-home mothers with a high disposable income, share or create content that focuses on pregnancy, high-end baby products and homemaking advice.

Does your retail store need an ecommerce website? 8 things to consider

So you have a physical retail store or maybe even a chain of stores, but as a small business owner with a never-ending to-do list that keeps you busy way past store hours, you haven’t quite made it to one item on your list – launching your online store.

It’s no secret that today’s shoppers are changing the way they shop. Consumers know about your store before they ever step foot in your doors. They are influenced by online reviews, their friend’s opinions, and a brand’s online presence more than ever. Online sales continue to rise steadily and now account for 10% of total retail sales. Even purchases on smartphones are rapidly increasing. Unlike most physical stores, online stores are open 24×7, so that must mean more sales, right?

So you ask yourself: Do I need an e-commerce website? Will this be a sales channel that will drive significant sales or at least drive shoppers to my physical store? Here are a few considerations when you are contemplating starting an e-commerce store for your brick & mortar store.

Do you have time to create and maintain an online store?

Thanks to e-commerce platforms like Shopify as well as players offering lightweight online stores for small retail shops, no longer does it cost 5 figures to launch an online store. The financial cost to get started and monthly fees for most e-commerce platforms are relatively affordable. Where an online store costs you… is time. Will you or someone on your staff have the time to add images and detailed and helpful descriptions for all of your products?

And this initial setup is just the beginning. You’ll need to be able to keep your online product information up to date as you add or delete items from your physical store’s shelves. Retail stores that have a high turnover, especially apparel stores, can find it difficult to keep their e-commerce site’s products current.

Do you have a considerable social media following?

Most small retailers understand the power and importance of a solid social media presence, and we at ShoppinPal have seen a lot of awesome retail stores doing this right. But out of all your likes and followers, how do you measure the effectiveness of your social media efforts? It’s no secret that it’s much easier to click on a link and buy online than to remember to stop by the retail store to buy an item later. Giving your social media followers an instant way to buy from you the very moment that they become interested in your item online can prove to be a massive opportunity to monetize your hard-earned traffic on popular social networks.

How much of your website traffic comes from outside of your city?

Most small retailers that have yet to launch an online store at least have a website so shoppers can get basic information about the store. So where are your website visits coming from? Using Google Analytics, you can quickly see how many of your visitors are local and how many visitors are outside of your city. If you have a decent number of non-local visitors finding you, launching an e-commerce store should move up on that never-ending to-do list.

Are your products easy to ship?

Selling online means you’ll be shipping items to your customers. How easy are your products to ship? If you sell large or heavy items, you may not be excited about this. You do have a couple options though. 1) ask your suppliers if they’d be willing to dropship some of your hard-to-ship items so you can collect the money and avoid the hassle. 2) offer your shoppers the option to buy online, but pick up the items at your store. More and more shoppers appreciate and take advantage of the in-store pickup option.

Do you have time to pack and ship online orders?

So you have products that are actually easy to ship? Awesome. So who has time to actually pack up these orders and ship them out? This is a great problem to have. Just make sure your team knows how online orders will be fulfilled. We find that many of our retail clients have one employee that is the go-to person for anything and everything relating to the e-commerce store, from maintenance to fulfillment.

Do your POS for in-store sales and e-commerce store for online sales play nice together?

Streamlining operations is key given the complexities of running a retail business. Make sure that the e-commerce platform you choose to power your online store works seamlessly with your store’s point-of-sale system so that your product information and inventory levels can be synced across channels. Cloud based POS systems, such as Vend and Erply, make your life easier because their rich API enables easier sync between the POS and your web store.

How much do you want to pay for your online store?

Whether you decide to use a free, open-source e-commerce solution like PrestaShop or decide to use a web-hosted e-commerce platform like Shopify, there’s a cost involved. A free, open-source solution will cost more upfront for a web developer to get your store open. An easy-to-use e-commerce platform like Shopify and Big Commerce will charge you a monthly fee to run your store. These solutions have gained popularity because of their ease of setup, ready-to-go online store templates, customer support, and the ability to get an online store up and running without being a developer. Monthly prices will vary depending on the number of products as well as certain features that you may want, but the price range is typically between $30 and $200 per month. For smaller retail shops, this monthly cost can be uncomfortable without knowing how much monthly revenue their online store will generate, in which case choosing an e-commerce store that offers performance-based pricing instead of a monthly fee may be a better fit.

What ROI will be worth the effort?

More revenue is great. So, how many dollar signs do you have to see from your online store in order for the effort to be worth it? Are you just measuring the revenue that comes from online transactions? There may actually be a lot of benefits that won’t show up there. Is your online store actually helping you drive more in-store traffic? What about the shoppers that never considered shopping with you due to your lack of an online store but now love your products?

If you have an established brand, your e-commerce site can be a destination that shoppers actually seek out. In this case, you’re sure to see a good level of sales coming from your e-commerce store. However, if you don’t have an established brand, you’ll quickly find that the world of e-commerce is extremely competitive. In this case, you should look at your online store playing a supporting role to help increase your physical store’s sales.

Something else to consider: Shoppers tend to purchase high-value items such as designer clothing, antiques, jewelry, furniture and cars at a physical store. But does this mean that they don’t visit the e-commerce store? Absolutely not. In fact, the more the item costs, the more online product research is done by the shopper. So even though the actual transaction may take place online, your online store still plays a significant role in the purchase process.

Bottom Line:

Whatever your goal – to add a sales channel or drive more shoppers to your physical store, an e-commerce store is imperative. Whether you and your staff have time to manage the online store will determine which e-commerce platform is best for your retail store. Picking a solution that integrates seamlessly into your operations and requires very little maintenance is the key to doing this without going crazy!

3 Tips to Help Small Retail Stores Gain Ground on the Big Box Stores

We’ve all heard about the Main Street mom and pop stores getting elbowed out of business by the big box retail stores. With the landscape seemingly working against the independent business owner, those of you with small retail shops may wonder if you can really compete with the big boys and continue to grow sales.

The answer is yes, you can—if you have a strong mobile and social network presence and take advantage of your flexibility. A study from the international research firm Latitude found that 61 percent of shoppers have better opinions of brands when they offer a good mobile experience, and 85 percent of survey respondents said that being able to shop from their mobile devices makes it more likely they will actually buy something.

Be Mobile-Friendly

When you decide to create a mobile presence, be sure to understand responsive design and mobile site optimization. In fact, because growth of sales via mobile devices has been high—an average of 135 percent increase in sales conducted via smartphones from 2012 to 2013, according to the National Retail Federation—creating a mobile-friendly site could be a great first step to increase accessibility outside of your store.

Get Social

To further differentiate yourself from the big companies and to add a personal touch to your business, consider ramping up your social media presence on Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter or wherever your customers hang out. Launch an online competition is a great way to increase visibility and consumer engagement—you can decide on an item or coupon to give away and then ask followers to leave a comment and like/follow you on your various social media platforms. Then inform the winner at the end of the week.

Use social media to re-post articles or inspirational quotes that fit your company’s culture or share anything that resonates with and engages your customers. You can also ask for input on interior design choices or opinions on which line to carry, because as the Ben Franklin effect shows, asking people for favors can actually lead them to be more invested in you.

Take a look at the way Joss and Main has grown their online presence on LinkedIn. They even landed a top rating for their iPhone app ahead of big companies like Walgreens and Home Depot. It’s further proof that small companies can gain ground by investing in their mobile and social presence.

Do What the Big Guys Can’t

Small businesses don’t have the same level of corporate restriction that the big retail stores do, so take advantage of your flexibility. You can experiment online with dynamic pricing (changing prices based on the market and consumer interest) and flexible pricing (changing prices based on individual customer preferences). You can decide to offer incentives for certain items that you need to move out of inventory. You can choose to offer sales not only when customers have come to expect them (think Memorial Day, Labor Day, etc.) but also during times that are important to you like say, for instance, the anniversary of your store opening.

9 Top Blogs Retail Executives Should Read

There’s definitely no shortage of retail blogs out there to help you keep up with the latest retail trends and learn some tips to improve your retail store or your area of retail expertise. We filtered out some of the noise for you and put together a list of some of our favorite retail-specific blogs. The list below packs something for every company or executive – each blog we’ve selected approaches retail topics with its own unique perspective.

Retail Touchpoints     twitter

The Retail Touchpoints blog is an excellent source to keep up on the latest tips and trends to serve retail customers better. In addition to the blog, the Retail Touchpoints website is a great place to find research and reports, as well as insights from top retail executives across all retail topics from marketing to operations. The website also has a Solutions Spotlight section where some of the top retail solutions are highlighted so retail executives can stay on top of the latest technologies and tools.

NRF     twitter

Looking for a broadview take on where retail is now, and where it’s heading? NRF brings regional, national and global stories to its readers with the diligence, breadth and relevance for which the National Retail Federation is best known.

Shopify     twitter

Shopify’s blog has something everyone will love and learn from. This innovative publication features highly relevant and detailed case studies, productivity app suggestions, marketing innovations and top-notch selling suggestions. For some variety in your retail reading, bookmark Shopify at once.

Retail Minded     twitter

Retail Minded is a leading destination for the independent retail store. Established in 2007, this thorough online publication is a heavy hitter. Whether your speciality is inventory, trade shows, marketing or customer service, Retail Minded has topics small retailers will want to add to their reading list.

Retail Focus     twitter

If you want the latest on retail design and display, Retail Focus delivers. This online magazine puts the emphasis on aesthetics – and the result is a powerful, cutting-edge publication that delivers the top news on what major retailers across the world are designing for their stores and projects.

Internet Retailer     twitter

For a comprehensive look at online retailing today, Internet Retailer does not disappoint. This publication delivers the freshest news, key data, feature articles and insightful analysis of current retail strategies.

Vend     twitter

From tips on boosting your profit margins to insider looks at what consumers are actually thinking, Vend is here to help. This corporate blog delivers fresh content on a regular basis that is of real use to small to mid-size retail chains. This one is not to be missed.

Forrester Retail     twitter

Retail research, data and analysis company Forrester’s blog is full of rich data and insights that can help retailers today make smart decisions and drive sales. This blog is a highly-regarded way to get a look at retail today, based on the evidence: real data and real interviews with retail’s top executives.

Retail Prophet     twitter

Doug Stephens is one of the industry’s foremost retail futurists. Voted by Vend as one of retail’s top global influencers, his blog is full of pertinent information retailers need to have access to. As an author, speaker and brand advisor, Doug delivers his predictions and insights in a timely and skilled fashion.

There you have it! Making time to keep up with the latest retail trends and tips can be challenging, but these top-notch blogs should definitely make your short list of must-reads. Which ones did we miss that should have made it in our top 9? Let us know in the comments.

How to Use Google Maps to Drive More Traffic to Your Retail Store

According to Google, 97 percent of customers shop for local businesses online; amazing, right? In the world of apps, Google Maps is a heavy hitter. It’s the most popular smartphone app out there, with over 54 percent of smartphone users who use apps using it to get where they need to go.

If you have a physical retail location you can’t afford to ignore this easy and free way to – literally and figuratively – get your business on the map. When your business is listed, you help your customers find you through different Google channels such as Maps, Search and Google+ and drive more traffic to your stores.

With 50 percent of smartphone users using a map app (most likely Google Maps) to find retail stores and 74 percent of smartphone users using location-based services, this is a service that’s becoming more and more relevant as the rise of smartphones continues. Shoppers are using both Google and Google Maps to find restaurants, businesses and retail stores. As Google doesn’t charge to list your business, this is a service you can’t afford overlook.

How to Get On the Map

To get started, you need to have a Google account (this account will work for all of your Google activities from Gmail to Google+). Next, you need to ensure your store is on the map. Believe it or not, the good samaritans over at Google may already have listed it for you; they may not have. To check, surf on over to Google Maps and search for your business. If you find it, you’ll need to ‘claim’ your business. If you don’t find it, you’ll need to ‘list’ your business.

To list your business on Google Maps, you’ll need to do so through Google Places for Business. First, sign in to your account and then create your business listing based on the instructions provided. If your business is already listed, you’ll need to claim it. You can do that by clicking on the corresponding clickable link that pops up when you pull up your business on Google Maps; from there you can choose the option to claim your business. You can get more detailed instructions on claiming your business. As claiming and listing your business can take a few weeks (Google doesn’t just put anyone on the map), it’s wise to get started right away.

Optimize Maps for Maximum Exposure

Optimizing your business for maximum exposure is an important part of your Google Maps strategy. Though getting on the map is the first, and arguably most important step, your work doesn’t end there. Learn to leverage Google to drive more foot traffic to your store. Here’s a plan to help you get more traffic out of maps:

1. Take Advantage of Google’s Free Features for Business

Google wants to be as complete as possible, so it provides lots of opportunities for you to upload information on your business. Start by making sure your Google Places/Maps listing is as thorough as possible. Add photos of your business. Fill out the hours. Provide a link to your website. Next, stay on top of customer reviews that are left for you. Google provides a forum in which customers can review your business; whether those reviews are negative or positive, it’s key to stay in the conversation and respond when a customer discusses your store on Google. Google provides a wealth of information on how to use their free features for big exposure.

2. Use Keywords to Your Advantage

Are there certain keywords or product words associated with your business? If you know a customer is going to be searching for a certain word associated with your store, such as “handbags”, it’s wise to make sure ‘handbags’ is in your Google Maps/Places description. Think of important keywords a customer might use to describe your business, and then include them in your Google description.

3. Encourage and Respond to Customer Reviews

Be sure to encourage your customers to share their experiences on your Google Maps page. Actual customer reviews go a long way in establishing actual trust and reputation within your community. Not only is it great for prospective customers to read reviews, but Google uses keywords from reviews to find relevant places for users. The Google Maps app makes it very easy for customers to rate and review your store on the go. It’s also critical that you monitor and respond to these reviews to show your customers that you care and are committed to making your retail store the best it can be.

4. Optimize Your Online Store for Mobile

Creating or claiming your listing, optimizing your store’s information, and generating and responding to reviews is an excellent start. But don’t stop there. Remember when you added a link to your website in your Google listing? Mobile commerce, specifically purchases made on smartphones, are on the rise. Often times a merchant’s website is not optimized for mobile. Other times a merchant’s mobile version of its site makes it simple to find store locations and contact information. But guess what? Google Maps already gives your shoppers your location, directions and phone number. So your website link you provide them in Google Maps should direct these shoppers to a great mobile experience for your online store. Prospective customers want a glimpse of what items you sell in your store before they visit in person. Make sure your e-commerce site is optimized for mobile shopping and makes checkout a quick and easy transaction.

If your store doesn’t have a mobile-optimized online store or no e-commerce store at all, a mobile commerce platform can be an efficient way to give your shoppers an instant mobile-optimized storefront for shoppers to browse your store’s real-time inventory and most popular items, see specials you’re running, and buy on the go. Shoppers can also order items and select in-store pickup instead of waiting for shipping if your mobile commerce platform is integrated with your point-of-sale system.

According to Google, 50 percent of consumers who search locally on their smartphones visit a store within a day. Don’t miss out on these customers. Optimize your Google Maps listing to help drive more traffic to your stores.