The New ‘Location, Location, Location’ in Retail
In this regular Street Fight feature, local marketing gurus David Mihm and Mike Blumenthal kick around some of the biggest ideas affecting the local search ecosystem and the broader industry. Send us an email or leave a comment if you have specific topics that you’d like them to touch on in future columns!
David: Mike, I’m looking forward to having our next conversation in person at the Brandify Summit. But you’ll have to put up with one more virtual chat for today.
Mike: I am not looking forward to a cross-country jaunt, but I am looking to get that beer you owe me.
David: Ha! Yes, I’m sure I owe you more than one at this point. I can vouch for Angel City being a good spot for you to collect, although I’m sure Dan Leibson of Local SEO Guide would have an even better recommendation.
Let’s get to the conversation at hand, though. You mentioned a recent article from Greg Sterling about the Amazon-Whole Foods acquisition had sparked your interest.
Mike: When I was teething in retail trenches the axiom was always that the three most important things for success were location, location, location. But it strikes me that the role of location is no longer about the business, it’s about the person making the purchase.
David: I tend to agree. We’ve even seen this from an algorithmic perspective at Google Maps over the last several years. The dominant ranking factor has evolved from proximity to centroid (defaulting to established businesses in the city center) to proximity to industry centroid (defaulting to businesses of the same industry clustered together) to proximity to searcher. Clearly the technology Google is using to identify searcher location has gotten more sophisticated, but consumer preference has surely also influenced this evolution.
There’s really no way to “game” this factor any more, short of opening a storefront near every single one of your customers.
Mike: As the big general merchandisers like Macy’s, J.C. Penney and Sears fail and the malls become ghost towns, location becomes an impediment, not a strength in survival.
David: Location is still important, but it’s a qualitatively different location than the one which has dominated most retail for the last 40 or 50 years.
The new consumer (and search) paradigm favors small-scale, hyper-focused boutiques close to population centers as opposed to horizontal big box retailers on suburban commercial strips. By the time you fight traffic and parking to get out to the big box store, let alone find the items you’re looking for, it’s easier to order those commodities from Amazon and have them delivered to you within 24 hours.
Mike: We are seeing this happen with a resurgence of independent bookstores that have been increasingly successful despite Amazon competition. They have essentially filled the void left by Borders closing.
But for these boutiques to successfully compete long haul against the likes of Amazon, then maybe the axiom needs to be updated to the three most important things to success are experience, experience and location?
David: You’re right. And the experience of visiting a retailer in a mall whose anchor tenant has gone belly-up is somewhere between unpleasant and depressing.
Mike: Greg created a check-list that every retailer should pay attention to in achieving success. Essentially every business needs to implement some form of the one touch purchase. In and out of a location and super easy returns without pain are table stakes. Folks have gotten used to the one touch purchase experience and everything from banking to car rentals need to rethink their processes.
David: Companies like Warby Parker and Bonobos execute on this extremely well on a national scale.
Locally, i just had a great experience with Clive Coffee. I checked Amazon for initial inventory but wasn’t confident enough to make a purchase based on the review corpus for the burr grinders I was looking at. Clive has a memorable storefront in our up-and-coming Eastside Industrial District, and does a terrific job of translating their in-store experience online via product descriptions and videos.
After learning they offered free local delivery, it was a no-brainer to place an order with them. My friend received his grinder within 48 hours of me placing the order. Completely painless.
Mike: That certainly reinforces Greg’s point about having virtually all inventory online. And it means that they need to also do great Local SEO with store locators but also inventory as well.
David: That’s right. Realistically, most retailers regardless of size will need to have a good ecommerce as well as brick-and-mortar experience. Consumer confidence that a product will be available at a given location based on online information is going to make-or-break a lot of purchases.
Mike: But even with a great online experience, all too many retailers offer lame in store experiences; it’s hard to find a clerk, when you do they know nothing; finding a check-out counter that is staffed is onerous. Obviously that online positive experience needs to be buttressed with a similar in-store one.
David: Loyalty is also going to be critical as Amazon and Google/Walmart siphon off more and more product purchases via voice search.
The foundation of loyalty is a positive in-store experience laid by painless checkout and painless returns returns, but there’s also a need to stay top-of-mind with really well-targeted offers and useful information about your products or service lines.
Mike: I agree that loyalty needs to mean a lot more than a well run card system tracking purchases. The business needs to not just meet but exceed the expectations of their customers as a matter of course.
Greg’s advice for retailers is very tactical. But his check-list isn’t just a check-list for a check-list’s sake. In the end for any of this to work, the business needs to integrate the idea of the consumer experience into the core of their thinking. And that is the hard part.
After more than a decade in local search, David Mihm now runs Tidings, an email newsletter platform for small businesses that leverages their everyday social media activity, and his own weekly newsletter, Minutive. In 2012, he sold his former company GetListed.org to Moz, helping over 3 million businesses get better visibility in Google and other search engines. Along with Mike, he’s a co-founder of Local University.