More than 8,600 brick-and-mortar stores are expected to close this year, up from 2,056 in 2016 and 5,077 in 2015. But long after the doors have been shuttered for the final time, much of the local data for those stores remains online. For national chains with hundreds of storefronts spread across the country, outdated location data can lead to frustrated shoppers and missed opportunities for sales.
“Coming across incorrect information on Google is frustrating to customers who have chosen to go to a location over possible competitors only to find out it is closed at what should be their moment of purchase,” says Ryan Weisert, director of client success at MomentFeed, a firm that manages the mobile customer experience for multi-location brands.
Although it’s hard to determine exactly how many local listings are outdated or incorrect, it’s becoming a bigger problem as major retailers like Staples, JC Penney, Payless ShoeSource, and Bebe close physical store locations across the country. At the same time, the number of places where local listings can be found, and the number of ways that local data is being utilized, continues to grow. According to a report by the Local Search Association and YP, 43% of retail stores and 41% of restaurants in the U.S. have at least one incorrect or missing address listed online, leading to $10.3 billion worth of lost sales.
The frustration that consumers feel when inaccurate local data brings them to storefronts that have already shut down can damage a brand at the worst possible moment.
“Inaccurate information leaves a bad taste, and unless you’re the only business in town, consumers will immediately turn to a competitor,” says MomentFeed’s Weisert. “And if they’re really frustrated, they’ll leave a bad review and harm your online reputation. This experience is far more likely to remove a brand from that customer’s consideration set long term. And if a customer leaves a bad review—even on a page that represents a closed business—that hurts the overall brand.”
So what’s the solution? According to Weisert, brands should be pushing more resources toward location data management to leverage the content around specific business locations, not just on local listings sites, but also on social media, review sites, and mobile marketing platforms.
Local data doesn’t just disappear or update on its own when a physical store closes. It’s up to the brands themselves to make sure their citations don’t become out of date, and listings for locations that no longer exist are removed from digital world.
When Foursquare’s analysts looked at first-party foot traffic data at Kmart, in the aftermath of a wave of store closures last year, they found that loyal customers were willing to travel an additional 4.3 miles to visit the retailer’s next closest location after their local stores closed.
Weisert recommends that brands take advantage of their existing social channels to communicate store closures before they happen, and when possible, direct customers to the next closest location, as Kmart has done. A retail chain might notify customers about upcoming store closures by posting information on those stores’ local Facebook pages. Weisert says it’s a good idea include information about the next nearest location, either organically or with some paid advertising. He also recommends that local pages be unpublished or deleted after Facebook’s 14-day waiting period. This prevents people from stumbling on an old Facebook page and thinking the store location is still open, and it also helps to remove outdated location data from the web.
The tough part for businesses, and particularly larger brands closing multiple stores, is that each network has its own best practices and capabilities when it comes to closing locations. On Google My Business, for example, each location should be marked as “permanently closed.” On Bing and other search networks, listings are simply deleted.
Stephanie Miles is a senior editor at Street Fight.