As we witness giants such as J.C. Penney and Macy’s close a number of locations, it can seem easy to draw conclusions that the end is near. The truth is that this decline in foot traffic has much less to do with what’s coming, but more with what was always on its way. Successful retailers are thriving today because they didn’t stick their heads in the sand to the advent of online and mobile shopping. The end is not suddenly near: it was inevitable, and retailers have made it so with a series of choices made over the years.
The best litmus test for today’s retailers is to assess whether their digital strategy is effectively driving foot traffic to their stores. If you’re not taking any measures to convert online searchers into offline shoppers, then you’ve found your first problem.
Before I get into the specific ways you can implement an online-to-offline (O2O) funnel, let’s address the idea of retail’s apparent “crisis.” Features in The Atlantic and The New York Times say that retail stores are facing a recession reminiscent of the 2007-2008 market crash. But dissenting voices prove that consumers still actually want to visit your store: 85 percent to 95 percent of consumer engagement happens through store location listings, and 85 percent of consumers still want to venture to a physical store to do their buying.
Conflicting philosophies around this means there’s a crack in the equation; a kink that entrepreneurs, marketers and industry leaders need to iron out. Measurable, highly targeted campaigns that are ripe with insights bring ready-to-buy consumers searching online to your front doors. Get your locations listed. Think of your listings like an open sign for the online crowd. Have the most accurate content on the right directories, and then get tracking. Your data will be the key, determining the steps you need to take to stay relevant to consumers. Prioritize your Google My Business listings, then consider your industry target and demographics, and then go from there.
Leverage your listing data even further by challenging the definitions of “local marketing." Think beyond the traditional means of advertising and really consider how consumer behaviors have changed. Uber boasts 40 million riders monthly, driving local consumers around your locations. Partner with Uber to get your stores and promotions in front of nearby consumers, who expect in-store experiences tailored to their specific tastes (because you can, after all). Consumers are looking for shareable moments for their social networks. Social proof is a huge asset to your brand, especially for its power to inspire user-generated content. Snapchat does this better than anyone with Geofilters. Shoppers snap their way through their day, add location-specific geofilters that reach their network and generate the next wave of shoppers in-store.
Local marketing is a serious investment of time and resources, and return on investment is required from both of those. Great returns are born from solid insights. You need to collect data from your listings to track what’s working, what could improve and where you need to adjust. Being able to track a single search into a visit is the Holy Grail of O2O, and with big data, we’re very close to closing this attribution gap. The retail world isn’t in crisis, it’s rapidly evolving. Successful local marketing starts with ensuring consumers have a digital path to your physical store, and your success will grow by thinking beyond traditional advertising means. Use analytics to strengthen your ROI, and start building those memorable in-store experiences. Step outside of the panic zone. The solutions are right in front of us — loud and clear — like a flashing open sign.
Mohannad El-Barachi is the co-founder and CEO of SweetIQ Analytics Corp., a marketing hub helping multi-location brands effectively increase in-store traffic via local search.