Super Retailers Face Super Location Data Problems

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It’s hard to believe that there was ever a time when grabbing a coffee, filling the gas tank, renting a movie, going to the bank, and buying a gallon of milk required a full-day itinerary with five separate stops. We take for granted that we can accomplish all these tasks with one stop at retail superstores such as Target and Walmart. I refer to businesses that operate multiple services under one roof as “container stores.” These types of businesses cultivate loyalty by simplifying customers’ lives and by up-selling (“the more you shop for groceries with us, the more you save on gas”). But container stores also must address a challenge: keeping their location data up to date in order to reflect the diverse array of products and services they offer. To be visible, and to provide good customer service, brands with multiple services in a single location must claim, correct, and optimize online data for each location and service.

Super retailers must publish multiple sets of data across the search ecosystem (especially the mobile ecosystem). That data includes sets of phone numbers, hours of operation, and possibly different business names. A typical Target might publish different location data for its pharmacy, photo lab, and seasonal services such as flu shots in addition to its main store hours, among other services. If that data is not properly managed, it’s harder for customers to locate, engage with, and, ultimately, make purchases at the store location.

Many consumers can relate to this challenge, and often in frustrating ways. Let’s say you visit a large grocery store that is open from 8:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m., with your goal being to refill an over-the-counter drug from a pharmacy that operates inside the store. You arrive at the store at 9:00 p.m. only to discover that, alas, the pharmacy closed at 8:00 p.m. Unfortunately, the store did not post accurate hours of operation for its pharmacy. In this example, the container store was not managing the location data for all its services as thoroughly as it should have.

The scenario I just described becomes even more daunting for large enterprises with multiple locations. Supermarket chain Meijer must manage location data for 200 stores, encompassing pharmacy services, bakeries, and gas stations. Target needs to manage location data for about 1,800 stores in the United States, and Walmart for more than 11,000 stores globally.

At SIM Partners, we recommend container stores treat location data as a precious asset requiring ongoing management. Container stores should take three important steps:

Organize Their Location Data
Retailers should properly organize their location data to account for the different businesses people are looking for in a container store. Retailers should:

  • Identify and claim all the business names that need to be visible, ranging from the name of the retailer itself (e.g., “Target”) to the different businesses operating inside the retailer.
  • Meticulously organize and verify the accuracy of each strand of location data that is unique to each service, ranging from latitudinal/longitudinal coordinates to hours of operation. For instance, each store should organize NAP data properly, assigning a unique but consistent name for each service within the store, secondary address information such as any special entrances to the service, and, if possible, a unique phone number that connects directly with the business by its name (e.g., “Walmart Pharmacy”).

Claiming and organizing location data requires many more steps, but the main point to bear in mind is how essential it is to map the data relationships.

Amplify Their Data
Making location data accurate is important to create a foundation for local and location-based marketing. But location data becomes a more powerful asset when unleashed across the mobile ecosystem where customers search for businesses near them.

As I mentioned in my last Street Fight column, sharing location data properly assists in both discovery and recovery searches. As popularized by John Battelle, discovery searches occur when a consumer lacks have the name of a particular business and is doing a category-level query (e.g., “pharmacy near me”). Recovery searches occur when someone is trying to recall specific information about a specific business, often after visiting). You want your entire business — including the data for the container store itself (e.g., Target) and services therein (e.g., a Starbucks operating inside a Target) to be findable. Doing so ensures that, say, Walmart appears in queries for optical care and again when someone tries to recover information after a visit.

As Google notes in its own guidelines, it’s important that multiple businesses at one location recognize the authority of each brand name rather than combine them into one listing. Google recommends picking one brand’s name for the listing or using separate listings for each brand at the location. For instance, it would not be acceptable to list “Staples/UPS” for a Staples store that includes UPS shipping services. Rather, each service requires its own listing.

Making your businesses under one roof findable means unleashing location data properly through data amplifiers. Data amplifiers distribute and publish data to a broader audience than a retailer could ever do on its own — what we call the “network effect.” Amplifiers consist of publishers such as Apple, Facebook, and Google, which share location data with consumers in their ecosystems; and aggregators such as Infogroup, Factual, and Neustar Localeze, which distribute business data to publishers.

Keep Location Data Healthy
When retailers have accurate data shared properly across their ecosystems, they possess location data health. In other words, healthy location data is accurate data with reach. Keeping data healthy requires ongoing management, publishing, and verification, especially because businesses are constantly changing. New locations open and close, businesses expand their services inside their locations, and seasonal changes (such as the holidays) require updating store hours. Additionally, a business needs to ensure that its location data accounts for changes beyond the control of a business, such as an area code changing.

When businesses make accurate location data accessible, they make location marketing more valuable. According to proprietary research conducted by SIM Partners, brands that increased their location data health score by 20 percent, in support of their listing management efforts, saw traffic to their location pages increase up to 450 percent and on-page action conversion rates increase by 216 percent.

Get Strategic
Managing location data across hundreds and thousands of locations requires dedicated resources to scale the data and change it. Just as importantly, a business must treat location data as a competitive asset, organized and managed like inventory. What is your strategy for managing location data?

Gib-Olander-150x150Gib Olander is vice president of product at Chicago-based SIM Partners.