Adding Clicks To Your Bricks: Local Search for Physical Retail Stores

Once upon a time, the brick and mortar store and the virtual store lived on opposite sides of the tracks. Today, things have changed, as small and niche retailers embrace the online world and services such as shopping apps and social media not  just for fun, but to keep their brick & mortar store relevant with the new tech savvy shopper.

Your customers are socializing online. Working online. Shopping online. But when it comes to finding products to buy at nearby stores or simply searching for stores nearby that they may want to visit, where do they turn? Their smartphones. A great way to maximize your sales is through capitalizing upon local search. In this post, we’ll go over what exactly local search is all about, and then we’ll cover some key ways to make sure your business is on the (local) map.

How Local Search Works for Retail Shops

One way to think about local searches? They’re like an interactive yellow pages that provide customer reviews, directions and photos in addition to the basic 411. Local search engines make it easy for customers to connect with businesses close to them. If a customer is searching for a rug and carpet retailer, for example, the customer might enter “rugs” into the search box on their phone’s browser or an app that helps them find stores nearby. Once he or she has entered “rugs” as their search term, the search engine or app delivers a results for rugs and rug stores; most options have been reviewed by customers and are rated based on a star system. Customers usually go with the business with the most reviews, photographs, information and highest ratings. Search engines and location-based apps like Yelp and Foursquare work hard to put local businesses like yours on the map so that nearby shoppers know where you are, what you offer and what the buzz on your shop is.

Where Retailers Should Invest Time

You spend time every day making sure your store is clean and attractive, both inside and outside; spend time making sure your online presence is appealing to potential customers, too. Local search marketing can be a time consuming task, but we aren’t telling you that you need to be a search engine optimization specialist. What we are telling you is that the place to start is simple: local listings. When your local listings online aren’t kept up, you risk turning off your local customers… if they even find your local listing. So, where should you invest your energy and time? Some of the main players in local search that smaller retailers should pay attention to are: Yelp, Google Places, Google Plus, Foursquare, Facebook Local and Bing.

Here’s a quick cheat sheet on what the main players in local search do:

  • Yelp: a local guide that functions as both a local search engine and as a place to leave and read reviews

  • Google Places: displays local businesses at the top for relevant local searches

  • Google+ Local: a function of the Google Plus social network that allows users to search for local businesses

  • Foursquare: a location-based social networking app for friends to follow real-world activities

  • Facebook Local: a function of the Facebook social network that allows mobile users to search for nearby locations while being able to view the business’s Facebook profile

  • Bing Places: a function of Bing that displays local businesses at the top of search results for relevant local searches

  • Yahoo Local: a function of Yahoo that displays local merchants and acts place to read and leave reviews for those businesses

How to Get Started to Show Up in Local Searches

Getting started on local search engines is a relatively simple process. We’ll use Yelp as an example on how to get your business registered and ready.

  • First, log on to Yelp and ‘claim’ your business: Yelp provides you with detailed instructions on how to do so.

  • Once you’re all set, you can complete your profile by adding uploading attractive photos of your retail floor, entering your website’s url and providing the best contact numbers for customers to call.

  • Be sure to mention any amenities your store offers, such as complimentary coffee or the ability to do self checkout from a smartphone!

  • Encourage customers to review your store by asking them to (whether you ask in person or on a sign).

Now that you’ve got the handle on Yelp, move on to Google+ Local, Foursquare and Yahoo, etc.: they all work in a similar way. You’ll find it gets easier as you go. For more detailed instructions on setting up your local search profiles, here’s some great guidance.

Getlisted.org is a great online resource for retailers and businesses to use: the site has a tool that helps you see which local listings your store has and which one you need to create or claim.

Key Takeaway

Services such as Foursquare, Google+ Local and Yelp can help you succeed, if you let them. One of the challenges in retail is getting the word out about your business. But shoppers are searching for nearby stores and products everyday. Are they finding you? Or are you making it easy for them to find your competitors?

5 Tips for Creating an Effective Online Presence for Independent Retail Stores

It seems that some of the greatest challenges in retail involves marketing strategies to help drive sales. Technology seems to outdo itself on a very regular basis, and the choices you make (digitally) can be crucial to your retail business.

Traditional forms of marketing (ie. print, mail, TV, radio, catalogs, brochures, etc.), while certainly not obsolete, can require a much heftier investment and a substantial amount of labor to get them to the masses in a way that appropriately appeals to your business. And measuring the impact of these traditional forms of marketing can sometimes be limited to nothing but a gut feel. Digital marketing methods offer a much greater potential for a return on your investment (that can actually be measured), providing an extremely cost-effective way of using a smaller marketing budget to grow your business.

These tips will highlight how small companies with potentially limited resources can launch a successful digital presence to boost the online footprint and overall exposure.

Create Powerful Web Content

First, make sure you create a great website. Your website is the first place that many people go to supplement their interest in your business. It is extremely easy to invest in this and create an online presence that is informative and appealing to the customer. Aim to maintain a connection with the consumer by providing the latest in company and industry news, helpful blog posts, and delightful images and information on your products.

Make sure that you also include appropriate keywords for SEO purposes. This way, more people searching products and info within your industry will be able to locate your business and expose themselves to your strong content.

Keep In Touch

According to a study by ExactTarget, 77% of consumers prefer to receive permission-based marketing communications through email. Use email marketing to reinforce relationships through special offers or bonus content and keep your product or service in your customers’ minds. Make sure that this content doesn’t solely focus on your product, but more so gives customers a feel for your store’s unique personality and why customers should care. As a small business, you have a unique advantage over larger retailers in that you have the ability to personalize content and really establish that individual connection with customers.

Master Social Media

Human interaction is invaluable to business success, and social media allows for such interaction to take place on a virtual platform, thus allowing for a broad-spectrum reach that face-to-face interactions would not easily permit. One of the biggest mistakes businessses new to social media make is trying to do it all and failing to do one thing well. You don’t need a presence on every social network out there. Can you imagine being active on Twitter, Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Vine, Instagram, YouTube… and still running your business? Instead, do some research to make sure you know which social networks your customers and prospective customers use most, and start with one social network.

Be active, maintain a presence and a conversation with consumers. This ties back into your “powerful web content” and can greatly improve your customer loyalty and engagement.

Mobile Presence

Not only must your content be engaging, but it also must be done in a way that can be easily read and acted upon, particularly when done so on a 3-6 inch screen. Make sure content is appropriate for whatever screen a customer wants to use. For example, your website needs to be impeccably compatible for mobile devices and contact information should be easily found. Essentially, your entire communication and marketing strategy needs to be mobile-friendly.

Make sure that when people nearby search for your store or items you sell, they can actually find you. Visit GetListed.org, enter your business information, and submit your business info to each of the directories available.

Set Goals and Track Results

In order to maintain a place and know how you need to adapt in order to move forward, you must monitor goals and track results. Consider what types of posts and promotions people are responding to. Analyze the referring sites that actually bring people to your website and brick-and-mortar location. As a small business, you have the advantage of adaptability in that if something isn’t working, you have a much quicker ability to change and redirect your marketing efforts. It may take a bit of trial-and-error to figure out exactly what works for your business, but the process can flow much more efficiently than it will in the marketing department of bigger chain stores.

Google Analytics provides a great (and free!) starting point for tracking the movement in your online presence. You can track page views, referral traffic, bounce rates, overall traffic, and this is just the tip of the iceberg. All of this information can be used to validate what you’re doing right (or wrong) and make changes as needed.

What have you found to be most successful for your store when establishing an online presence?

Buying Local: How it Helps and Why You Should Care

In a world where big box stores aim to monopolize on market goods, local economies have struggled to maintain a firm hold. From small towns to big cities, local store owners face perhaps the biggest retail challenge in staying afloat amongst the big fish in the economic sea as national chains sweep in and displace locally owned businesses on a nationwide scale.

The homogenizing trend of chain stores (and big profits) has created an advertising age in which the consumer is fed trends and incentives to buy big or go home. The push for “best price” has disregarded the values that independent businesses provide us, both personally and within our communities.

What the support of local businesses does for local economies:

When you buy from independent, locally owned businesses, you are investing in the local economy. That is, significantly more of the money that you spend is reinvested back into the local economy on the whole, via local payrolls and salaries, local owners, and most importantly, local taxes. These all add up, and as money circulates, it enriches local schools, infrastructure, and vital community services. This creates a cyclic prosperity within the community, as local businesses also buy from other local businesses and service providers. These supporting services and entrepreneurs include architects, contractors, attorneys, advertising agencies, and many more. By employing more local people on the whole (not just direct employees), these businesses more easily overcome this type of retail challenge and continue to feed wealth back into the community.

Why it makes a difference:

Tax revenues are generally the biggest benefit of and biggest incentive for buying local. For every one dollar you spend locally, 3 times more money is returned to the local economy versus one dollar spent at a chain store. The icing on the cake? They also generate more tax revenue per sales dollar. This all feeds into local exchanges and expands the local economy.

By supporting the local economy, there is also a personal investment into the community, not only from a financial standpoint, but ethically as well. Locally owned businesses create more quality jobs of higher morale, and in many cases, provide better wages and benefits than the big chains do. This ethical consideration is huge, as there are often “hidden” costs that come with the low prices of national chains. The low product prices may seem phenomenal, but when considering the extremely low wage earned by all employees in order to maintain such a low price, one can reason that paying a slightly higher price for an item sourced locally by employees who are valued at higher rates of pay creates higher morale not only within the company, but as those employees participate within other aspects of the community as well.

How to help people look beyond price:

Price is the key player in consumer preference, and it can be a huge challenge for local businesses to maintain prices that compete with the big guys. But there is something to be said about what buying local means overall, particularly as consumer and business benefits intermingle. These factors all add up to create a powerful incentive for the “Buy Local” movement.

Buying local insights better service and higher product quality. Local businesses tend to hire employees that learn a better understanding of the products they are selling and take more time to get to know the needs of the customer. Not to mention, more room for unique (and higher quality) products on the local scale, versus buying goods from big box stores that market mass produced items purely for the purpose of maximizing profit. Small businesses are able to customize products they sell, based on the needs and desires of local people instead of a generic national sales plan. This guarantees a much broader range of appropriate product choices and a marketplace that nurtures innovation.

Local businesses provide a powerful sense of community, adding a sense of character to that cannot be matched via big chain stores. From a tourism standpoint, these types of businesses provide fantastic economic support . When people go on vacation, they specifically seek these types of unique neighborhood destinations, driving sales further and providing extra help to ease the retail challenges faced by smaller local businesses.  This personal imprint really impacts people, and can be used as a powerful tool to drive customers to local markets.

At the end of the day, buying local is about buying appropriately-crafted products that speak to individual consumers, all at fair prices that nurture the economic prosperity of local communities. It’s also about the best value for a consumer’s time and money. Value certainly includes reasonable pricing, but extends beyond the fiscal implications to include ethical and moral prosperity as well. Communities are empowered by the Buy Local movement, and an increase in customer appreciation of this trend will continue to help ease this pervasive retail challenge.