Interactive Maps Help Bring Back Shoppers After Covid Hiatus

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This post is the latest in our “Mapping the Future” series. It will be an editorial focus for the month of July, and you can see the rest of the series here

Email open rates have risen sharply since the Covid-19 pandemic stopped the country in its tracks last winter. With stay-at-home orders in place across much of the world, email open rates quickly jumped up 4%. Sixty-one percent of consumers said they would prefer to hear from companies via email than other channels, and that shift coupled nicely for retail marketers seeing an uptick in e-commerce shopping.

As the pandemic has worn on, marketers have begun to ask what’s next. How do you keep open and click-through rates high, even as consumers shift back from e-commerce to in-person shopping? The answer, for many, involves maps.

Just look at Torrid, the women’s retail chain formerly owned by Hot Topic, with more than 600 stores across the U.S., Puerto Rico, and Canada. Even before the pandemic began, traffic at Torrid stores was on the rise. According to an analysis of foot traffic by the mobile location analytics platform, Torrid was 64.9% above its baseline for visits in June 2019 and up 23.8% year-over-year.

Foot traffic at retailers across the globe came to a standstill in the spring when states began to enter lockdown status. Like many retailers, Torrid shifted its focus to emphasize its e-commerce channel. It relied heavily on email marketing to promote online and offline shopping opportunities, which included a robust e-commerce website as well as curbside pickup options. Of course, with stores across the country closing and then reopening with limited hours, customers had questions. Which stores were open? Which stores were offering curbside pickup? Where was the closest store that would be open for returns?

Torrid went all-in on email marketing and started using real-time maps to inform customers about local store closings and curbside pickup options.

To make the strategy work, Torrid partnered with a company called Liveclicker, which provides email personalization solutions for B2C marketers. Together, the companies created interactive maps based on real-time information that could be embedded in Torrid’s customer marketing emails.

“Torrid wanted to ensure their shoppers had real-time information on the various shopping experiences available,” says Liveclicker’s Brooke Schommer.

Developing the maps that Torrid would use meant pulling in a complex set of data from each Torrid store location and personalizing its interactive maps based on each recipient’s geographic location. When a shopper opened an email, she would be shown a retail location based on what her preferred location was, and she could also see if there were any alternative stores nearby in cases where her preferred location was temporarily closed due to Covid-19 shutdowns.

Shoppers also use Torrid’s interactive maps to see which locations are open, closed, or open only for curbside pickup. Different pin colors show which options are available based on the location of the viewer when the email is opened. At the time when the email is opened, the closest location to the subscriber is rendered with details that can include up-to-date store hours, curbside or in-store pick-up availability, store phone numbers, and traffic patterns. With stores across the country in a variety of re-opening stages, it was crucial that Torrid could support multiple datasets.

The work has paid off. Torrid has seen a nearly 200% increase in click-through since adding the interactive maps to its customer emails.

“Personalization helps ensure that those emails are as relevant and valuable as possible, not only to better reach customers, but to also help them get what they need at a particularly sensitive time in their lives,” says Schommer.

A Growing Market

The use of interactive maps in email marketing appears to be growing. Market signals indicate that mapping is being used more frequently across a variety of channels, including social and display advertising. Snapchat began moving into local mapping just last month with its latest upgrades to Snap Map, as well as self-serve advertising for local businesses.

Although turn-by-turn directions and navigational tools weren’t being used much during the height of the pandemic, the trend appears to be changing now that in-person shopping has returned. A study from the commerce experience platform Nosto suggests e-commerce performance globally is leveling off after a massive 66% spike in online sales in May. As stores like Torrid, Home Depot, Kohl’s, and others continue promoting their in-store and curbside pickup options, they will increasingly rely on mapping technology to guide people back to their physical locations.

More brand marketers are also talking about Google Maps as being an under-appreciated discovery channel. In a Street Fight column, Mike Blumenthal noted that Google Maps has become the primary discovery tool in many categories, thanks in part to Google sending traffic from Search to Maps instead of the local finder.

“We are largely blind to the quantity of app traffic that Google is generating, but the reach of Google Maps is huge,” writes Blumenthal.

Globally, the digital map market is projected to expand to reach $29.4 billion by 2024. One of the primary drivers is the increasing adoption of mobile devices for navigation, as well as wider adoption of 3D platforms and technologies for digital map-making.

Even before the pandemic, retailers were already looking at how they could better utilize mapping and navigation in their marketing strategies. Home Depot has led the way in integrating mapping in its mobile apps, and it has found success with AR-enabled in-store navigation tools. Walgreens has also been a pioneer in the use of navigation to give smartphone users a way to view maps and locate specific sections, aisles, or departments within stores.

Inpixon Chief Operating Officer Soumya Das says brands hoping to expand in that arena should consider the four essential building blocks to make spaces more rich and helpful: mapping, positioning, analytics, and developer tools.

“The momentum is still there, and the adoption rate is accelerating,” Das says. “It’s less of an evangelistic sale now that the use cases and customer case studies that demonstrate the ROI are more plentiful.”

Stephanie Miles is a senior editor at Street Fight.Rainbow over Montclair

Stephanie Miles is a journalist who covers personal finance, technology, and real estate. As Street Fight’s senior editor, she is particularly interested in how local merchants and national brands are utilizing hyperlocal technology to reach consumers. She has written for FHM, the Daily News, Working World, Gawker, Cityfile, and Recessionwire.