How Online Store Locators Focus Guess’ Real-Time Marketing

When Edward Park took on the job of synthesizing fashion retailer Guess Inc.’s online and offline North America marketing two years ago, he decided that finding a way to streamline communication from the continental to local level required a balancing act.

Park needed to bring Guess’ wholesale, e-commerce, and brick-and-mortar divisions, which had been conducting themselves fairly independently, in line together. And the foundation would be recognizing the individual market needs for Guess’ roughly 400-plus North American stores.

It began partnering with retail technology platform Radius8 to tie local marketing conditions that could impact sales — everything from the weather to popular events — to center its digital advertising, promotions, and email marketing efforts.

Understanding Local Is The Foundation

“Radius8 pitched its concept in terms of ‘shop local,’  and taking a traditional store locator into giving the visibility to our customers in terms of a full assortment of our inventory and driving traffic to stores,” says Park, who was named SVP of Retail and Digital ad Guess after five years at women’s apparel retailer Zara’s parent company Inditex Group in China.

“I was coming from Asia, so to me, anything to do with omnichannel, online to offline, mobile, was all seamless,” Park adds. “You know, people here looked at me as a crazy guy when I came and said, ‘We have to put all our efforts as mobile-first.’ I can say many great things about Guess in terms of its great 36-year history and the great brand identity it has created. But I’ve always to our Guess Digital team as a startup, which is one of the reasons we have to be nimble. We have to be quick.”

Radius8’s Smartbar — powered by Yext’s store locator — in action for Guess.

By using Radius8’s tools like Smartbars, an analytics program that can highlight what’s happening around a store location (weather, events, Twitter trends) and combine it with what an area’s consumers are browsing for online, Guess stores were able to get quick info along with the ability to understand longer term hyperlocal shopping patterns.

“A store manager at the Guess store on 5th Avenue can use our analytics to see what people are and buying and looking at online and then adjust what’s shown to consumers in the store locator Smartbar,” says Harlan Eplan, SVP for business development at Radius8. “It’s interesting to them to know that a red sweater is selling really well on line or people are clicking on it locally, maybe I need to pull that to the front of the store. Or,  perhaps they need to order more if they don’t have it in stock. It all reflects the greater interest from retailers to match up what’s happening online to what is going on in merchandising and how we’re showcasing a product in the stores.”

Expanding The Digital Storefront

In June, Radius8 began working with place-based knowledge management provider Yext [Full disclosure: Yext is GeoMarketing‘s parent company. More details on that relationship here] to expand the store locator information that Yext powers to Facebook pages and other places where consumers might encounter a brand’s messaging.

That partnership brings together another program Park implemented when he arrived at Guess two years ago, as one of his first initiatives included tapping Yext to power the brand’s store locator. By combining its info with Radius8’s ability to get an overview of what’s happening around store locations, Guess is able to get a better sense of when and where to target and tailor its marketing, Park says.

“Much like our peers, omnichannel enablement has been a big part of our work – with the goal of streamlining the ability to buy and improve operational efficiencies,” Park says. “This is a lot of work and a must have for any retailers today. Radius8 is supportive of this – by giving us a digital storefront – allowing customers to browse the true inventory.”

Jennifer Lopez is the face of Guess’ spring 2018 collection.

In addition, this drives much-needed store traffic and gives Guess a chance to upsell and cross-sell when a consumer is in the store. Before Radius8, a customer would never know what was in the store short of going there in person or calling, Park notes.

“Our goal is to expose our local products based on intelligence data of what is happening in and around that particular local market,” says Park. “Customers who come into the store buy more than those online.”

So with Radius8’s ability leverage local context, content, and trends to engage the customer online and on mobile based on what is happening in the market allows Guess to improve the performance of its Yext pages, Park says.

“Customers going to store pages have local intent, so we are bubbling up local trending product,” he says. “The Smartbars have a high click through and engagement and are driving our online conversion rate with local data.”

These behind the scenes marketing moves are also meant to support Guess’ new creative push. Last month, the retailer unveiled its latest promotion by Guess co-founder and Chief Creative Officer Paul Marciano featuring actress and pop star Jennifer Lopez as the “face” of its Spring 2018 collection. In the meantime, Park is also looking to find ways of using additional technologies, such as voice-activation, to further connect with consumers online and offline.

“Part of our goals of working with Radius8 is to create a centralized source of truth for local data and context in and around the store that can be easily leveraged and put to work to drive customer engagement,” Park says. “The great part of this is that working with Radius8, we can easily connect local with any emerging channel or shopping paradigm that is relevant to our consumer. Whether that is Voice Activation (Alexa/Google/Siri), Augmented Reality, or any other emerging tech, I’m confident Radius8 will be able to help us monetize that with contextual local data.”

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How Mall of America Is Using Chatbots And Robots To Connect With Holiday Shoppers

Mall of America has expanded its use of location-based chatbots by adding Softbank’s robot, Pepper, to engage with consumers and provide faster customer service to busy shoppers this holiday season.

The chatbot will live on MoA’s website, its mobile app, and Facebook page, and as an Amazon Alexa skill.  While MoA made use of chatbots last holiday season, that program only connected to its Facebook Messenger presence.

By making this expansion, which includes using chatbots, which were developed by tech partner Satisfi Labs, to power the “humanoid” robot Pepper, MoA is recognizing the mainstreaming of Connected Intelligence and artificial intelligence as a foundation for one-to-one marketing and omnichannel strategies.

A Retail First For Chatbots

MoA claims that the chatbot is the first of its kind for shopping malls. It is Satisfi Lab’s first fully-integrated retail location bot that uses multiple data feeds, over different customer touch-points, to answer customer’s questions in natural language, within seconds in real time.

For example, the bot can answer complex questions around gifting, food recommendations, and attractions and holiday events happening in America’s largest mall, based on a user’s specific location, says Sarah Townes, MoA’s VP of Marketing.

“This expands how we used chatbots last year. We developed more of a seasonal chatbot that provided holiday gift recommendations, holiday itineraries, depending on the type of visit that you were planning to make here, or whether you were a local Mall of America patron, or even someone coming from an international market,” Townes tells GeoMarketing.

“This chatbot is loaded with much more evergreen content that is timely. It actually is connected to a number of APIs that we’ve recently created around events, tenants, and deals,” Townes adds. “It can answer more real time questions, or specific questions relevant to a day or week events or things that are happening at the mall. Last year’s chatbot was very specific to Facebook Messenger. This one is going to be rolling out across our digital ecosystem very soon. It will be available on our website, our app, and then through Pepper as well.”

Black Friday at the Mall of America.

Adding More Pepper

Softbank’s Pepper has been a popular marketing tool for brands seeking to showcase their own AI expansion over the past two years. As we reported in May 2016, Pizza Hut Asia became be the first commerce partner to test Pepper, which is aimed at bringing greater intelligence to machines in order to create a more seamless and intuitive user experience in stores.

“For the most part, Pepper will be answering general questions about the mall, holiday hours, how to get to a specific location, maybe what events are happening at Mall of America during the holiday season,” Townes says. “In addition, she’s able to answer some specific questions about her, how tall she is, where is she manufactured, does she have human feelings, so she has some fun intelligence that is built into her as well.”

The MoA has also added some content on Pepper. There’s a “tell me a story” feature, which identifies specific holiday gifts from across MoA’s 520 retail tenants by category and is aligned with the mall’s online gift guide.

There will be three “Peppers” strategically places around the 5.6 million square foot mall, Townes says.

“The Peppers are placed depending on what events we have happening on a daily basis,” Townes says. “In general, she has spent most of her time around Santa, around some of our mall entrances, around a central parkway or thoroughfare in the mall where she can interact with as many guests as possible.

“For the most part, we do try to deploy the Peppers around the same area all 3 at once, versus having them all over the mall, simply because when she’s out and about, people cannot get enough of her,” Townes continues. “We want to make sure that people aren’t having to wait in line and they can have a nice interaction with her. By having three not lined up one after another, but in the same general vicinity, helps sort of mitigate any of the crowding, or challenges in the experience.”

Softbank’s Pepper

Finding MoA’s Voice Strategy

Pepper and the chatbot program will be at the MoA through its Super Bowl LII promotions. As Townes notes, even after the holiday season promotion, the effort will influence its broader focus on developing its voice-activation strategy via Amazon’s Alexa and other virtual assistants.

As a representative from Softbank notes, it’s all about meeting consumers’ demand for greater personalization.

“Shoppers will now have MoA on any platform they interact with the most, no matter where they are,” Softbank’s rep says. “At home, they can ask Alexa about their upcoming visit, or talk to the bot on the website and Facebook Messenger. If they are already at the mall, shoppers can easily download the enhanced MoA app that can direct customers to the thousands of destinations at the mall based on their current location.

“Every platform delivers the same quality bot experience and knowledge,” the rep adds. “The primary purpose of the bot is to simplify the process of looking through the myriad of options at the mall for the user. To avoid overwhelming the user, the bot provides a personalized shopping experience, but it can still connect shoppers with human concierges thereby augmenting the entire customer service department. This bot program together with the presence of Pepper at the mall definitely positions MoA as an innovation hub of new ideas in retail.”

Rounding out MoA’s voice and chatbot focus its new wayfinding tools within its app, which were launched in October.

“We have a new wayfinding feature in our app that offers guests a turn-by-turn experience,” Townes says. “We have provided even more parking and transportation solutions. We’ve recently started testing a parking by reservation service called My Park, which is an app enabled parking by reservation organization. Once you’re here, you’re able to download the app or use your app to help guide your experience. The goal of all of these new tools is designed simply to make it easier and more pleasurable to come to the Mall of America.”

Meanwhile, Softbank believes that MoA’s use of chatbots and Connected Intelligence will spur other retailers and malls to tap into those technologies as well.

“MoA’s push for a more customer-facing AI definitely paves the way for other malls to use these tools in their guest service and marketing strategies. By creating a useful, fun and easy to use bot program, MoA and Satisfi Labs have allowed other malls to see that quality service can scale no matter how large your property or customer base is,” Softbank’s rep tells GeoMarketing. “Additionally, having more users interact with new technology such as the bot and Pepper allow for more improvements of the tech and greater adoption across industry.”

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How Marketers Can Use Location Data To Find Brand Affinities Among Holiday Shoppers

With everything from voice search to omnichannel ad targeting changing the way brands attract holiday shoppers, the use of location data to make the connection between brick-and-mortars and consumers.

But figuring out the best ways to use location data remains an issue. While retailers pay attention to online browsing patterns, consumers still make the majority of purchases in stores, and how they move in the physical world influences their path to purchase, notes Ocean Fine, VP, Agency and Strategic Accounts at geo-data specialist Factual.

One of the things that location data does best is find the unusual shopping patterns of mobile consumers so that brands can anticipate who, when, and where shoppers might be more receptive to a geo-targeted ad.

Among the things Factual found at the start of the holiday shopping season:

  • 3.6 percent of Target customers visit a Starbucks before, while 6.3 percent visit a fast food restaurant
  • 4.6 percent of Walmart customers visit a gas station, while 4 percent visit a Walgreens
  • 9.9 percent of Macy’s customers visit a clothing and accessories retailer

“This kind of data could help retailers understand where they should focus ad dollars — Walmart could advertise deals at gas stations, or Target could partner with fast food restaurants,” Fine says.

GeoMarketing: Does Factual’s data have anything to say about the state of retail at the start of the holiday season? Was this a strong opening for retail? Or too soon to tell?

Ocean Fine: Per Adobe, Black Friday and Cyber Monday 2017 were among the highest sales days of all time – definitely a strong opening for retail! What remains to be seen is how sales will hold up throughout the season and, most importantly for brand marketers, how well their campaigns perform to drive people to purchase, both in store and online.

What does this data say about affinities between brands in terms of being able to reach a store’s likely shoppers before they’re in a retail location?

Understanding where shoppers go before and after they visit particular stores, as well as their brand affinities, helps marketers paint a more complete picture of their habits and interests, and better design advertising experiences that will elicit a positive response. Messages that are personalized and make sense in context are preferred by consumers, and a clear map of the consumer journey allows marketers to create them.

Are there any particular ways that retailers should look at location/mobile data when trying to figure out when as well as where its best to reach potential customers?

Mobile is a primary point of purchase for consumers, now more than ever. Using location-based behavior data combined with the insights derived from mobile purchase behavior, retail marketers can understand the entirety of the path to purchase, allowing them to tailor relevant content and achieve the marketing trifecta, targeting the right consumer, with the right message, at the right place. Marketers are able to see patterns in their consumers’ place visits over time, make inferences about their interests and build custom audience segments to ensure they’re reaching those who are interested.

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What Do Brick-And-Mortar Stores Face From Digital’s Role In Black Friday And Cyber Monday Shopping?

While Cyber Monday is still a bit too early to get the full scope of consumers’ online and offline shopping activity, the initial data appears to suggest that  brick-and-mortar brands are gradually finding benefits from omnichannel strategies.

“Shoppers no longer need to beat a path to stores on Black Friday,” notes Rick Kenney, head of Consumer Insights at Salesforce Commerce Cloud, in a blog post. “With an astounding 24 percent digital growth on Black Friday, the tide has officially shifted online as consumers are unshackled from the doorbuster sales of year’s past, and are free to shop on their own terms.

“What’s defining this holiday shopping season? Mobile, personalization and tremendous overall digital growth,” adds Salesforce’s Kenny. “In fact, Black Friday will retain its crown as the biggest digital shopping day of the season.”

For one thing, retailers’ embrace of personalization is having an impact on brick-and-mortars, even now, says Kenny, who states that even though just 6 percent of shoppers engage with product recommendations, those shoppers account for 30 percent of all revenue.

Preliminary numbers from other analysts bear that out.

For the second year in a row, analyst firm ShopperTrak says that Black Friday (i.e., 11/24/17 12 AM – 11:59 PM) brick-and-mortar retail traffic has held steady YOY, as ShopperTrak data shows a less than 1 percent decrease in YOY Black Friday shopper traffic numbers. That’s fairly similar to 2016’s YOY Black Friday results, as ShopperTrak data showed that Black Friday 2016 visits remained “flat” with “no statistically relevant increase or decrease in traffic levels, when compared to 2015.”

Black Friday Planning And Beyond

While it’s obvious that online shopping still has plenty of room to grow, even during the holiday season, all signs show how that purchase activity is accelerating.

What’s less clear: to what extent regular omnichannel shopping played in Black Friday and Thanksgiving weekend purchases as brands look beyond Cyber Monday deals. That said, a National Retail Federation survey offered some insights as to how the balance between digital and physical would take shape at the start of the holiday shopping period.

In general, the survey indicated that 69 percent of Americans — an estimated 164 million people — planned to shop during Thanksgiving weekend.

Of those considering shopping the long holiday weekend, the survey found that 20 percent plan to shop on Thanksgiving Day (32 million) but Black Friday will remain the busiest day with 70 percent planning to shop then (115 million). A substantial 43 percent are expected to shop on Saturday (71 million), with 76 percent saying they will do so specifically to support Small Business Saturday. On Sunday, 21 percent expect to shop (35 million) and 48 percent are expected to shop on Cyber Monday (78 million).

Of those shopping, 66 percent said they’re doing so to take advantage of deals and promotions retailers will offer, while 26 percent cited the tradition of shopping over Thanksgiving weekend and 23 percent said it’s something to do over the holiday weekend, the NRF said, citing its annual survey conducted by  Prosper Insights & Analytics of 7,439 consumers during October.

Another 23 percent said they would start their holiday shopping on Black Friday.

“While the utility of the weekend will continue to draw shoppers into stores and online to efficiently and inexpensively check off their lists, we’re also seeing consumers report tradition and the opportunity to partake in holiday cheer as reasons for shopping, too,” Prosper Principal Analyst Pam Goodfellow said. “By now, people know what sort of deals they can expect to see during the weekend and are budgeting for them accordingly, and in many cases expertly.”

“For Gen Z, the holiday shopping weekend is a can’t-miss opportunity,” Goodfellow said. “This group overwhelmingly sees in-store shopping as a valuable way to connect with others, be it friends, family or store associates at their favorite retailers.”

Real-Time Shopping Data

In its look at the SMB commerce platform Shopify’s view of activity in its network, which represents 500,000 businesses across 175 countries and is trusted by brands such as Red Bull, Nestle, Rebecca Minkoff, Kylie Cosmetics, the company’s real-time Black Friday/Cyber Monday public database has found over $320,000 sales occurring every minute.

In terms of categories, apparel is in the lead of shopper activity, with 1.4 million items bought, followed by accessories with 915k products purchased since Black Friday. Games in last place with 36,000 items bought, with food, electronics, cosmetics, shoes, and housewares ahead.

A Sunny Shopping Forecast

And after a recent spate of devastating weather events, conditions around the U.S. have been fairly favorable to brick-and-mortar retailers and their customers. Fung Global Retail Tech cited Planalytics’ analysis, which noted a lack of rain and snow across the US encouraged consumers to visit retail stores over the Thanksgiving–Black Friday period. Thanksgiving 2017 was the driest Thanksgiving since 2014 and Black Friday was the driest since 1999. The four-day Thanksgiving weekend was the driest in over 20 years.

Cold temperatures in major markets in the eastern US benefited sales of seasonal categories such as coats, scarves and gloves. Most eastern markets, including New York, Boston and Baltimore, as well as Chicago, experienced their coldest Thanksgiving since 2014, according to data from Planalytics. At the Ann Taylor store we visited, winter categories featured strongly: there were pink and plaid day coats at $125 and $130 (after 50 percent off) that combined sharp pricing with on-trend fashion for a strong value proposition.

Meanwhile, western markets saw their warmest Thanksgiving weekend in many years. Cities such as Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Diego, Denver, Salt Lake City, Phoenix and Las Vegas were roughly 10-to-15 degrees warmer over the weekend than the same period last year.

“Traffic and stock levels were decent overall at the stores we visited,” said a Fung report based on analyst team visits to 33 stores in six U.S. markets from Thanksgiving evening and Black Friday.  The Fung analysts went to 18 specialty retail stores, seven department stores, six discount stores and two off-price stores, variously located in Manhattan, Southampton and Staten Island, New York; Las Vegas, Nevada; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; and Paramus, New Jersey.

“Traffic and inventory levels were satisfactory overall,” Fung reported. “Among the stores we visited, Walmart, Nike and Best Buy were the biggest winners in terms of traffic on Black Friday, and they offered excellent traffic control and in-store experiences.”

A Mobile Tipping Point

Walmart, Nike and Best Buy appeared to be the biggest winners in terms of traffic on Black Friday, Fung added, noting that the stores offered excellent traffic control and in-store experiences.

“At the Walmart store we visited, yellow tape and extra staff helped guide customers at checkout,” Fung said. “Nike’s Manhattan flagship store was very crowded when we visited, and customers were concentrated in the sports jersey and running shoe areas. In-store traffic at popular teen destinations such as Forever 21, Hollister and Victoria’s Secret seemed higher than last year on Black Friday. Traffic levels at department stores we visited varied. At Saks Fifth Avenue, traffic appeared to be solid, but we saw fewer customers at Macy’s, Bloomingdale’s and Nordstrom.”

For the most, part, the central story this shopping season is one that amplifies the broader consumer trend in using mobile to research, discover, pick-up, and send for via delivery.

According to Adobe, this holiday season is set to cross a “tipping point” in mobile usage versus PC.

“While desktop purchases still account for two-thirds of revenue, mobile is the starting point for shoppers: for the first time, consumers will visit retailer websites from mobile devices more than desktops,” Adobe’s report states.

High-growth companies see more smartphone visit and revenue growth than below-average growth companies (23 percent and 32 percent respectively), Adobe’s report adds.

Skyhook’s Black Friday foot traffic study found that Walmart, Target and Best Buy beat Macy’s, Kohl’s and Sears for volume of in-store foot traffic over Thanksgiving and Black Friday. The attached chart details what foot traffic looked like at these six retail brands on the week prior to Black Friday – and on the day itself. It also shows that peak in-store shopping took place late on Thursday afternoon and then again just past noon on Black Friday. (See image below).
Source: Skyhook

It’s a message retailers have been absorbing to a greater degree lately. An earlier NRF survey looking at consumers’ preferences found that 50 percent say that free shipping/free pick-up options are the most important factor in choosing where to shop this season — meaning that retailers must deliver the ease and affordability at checkout time that shoppers have come to expect from Amazon if they want to compete.

“It seems that retailers are striking a happy balance in determining their online and in-store strategies for shopper engagement,” says Brian Field, director of Advisory Services for ShopperTrak. “Shoppers will still flock to physical stores on Black Friday to score a good deal, or as part of their tradition, but, many consumers no longer feel compelled to shop in stores on Thanksgiving Day.”

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Are Thanksgiving Blue Laws Good (Or Bad) For Retailers?

Leaving aside the debate over whether or not it’s unkind for retailers to make people work on a day like Thanksgiving, it’s worth noting the potential impact on business at the start of the crucial holiday shopping season.

In a comparison of states that impose “Blue Laws” preventing sales on Thanksgiving Day versus ones that leave that decision up to store owners, Foursquare data indicates that retailers in the former category appeared to be placed at a disadvantage. (It’s worth noting that New York was excluded from Foursquare’s look at 2016 retail data and that most of the Blue Laws states were in New England, which tends to have harsher weather at this time of year than other parts of the country.)

“While the three Thanksgiving Blue Law states [Maine, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts] saw an average foot traffic lift of 23 percent over the Thanksgiving weekend (Thursday through Sunday) in 2016 compared to a baseline weekend — the rest of the Northeast (Vermont, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, and New Jersey) with no legal restrictions saw a greater average foot traffic lift of 35 percent the same year,” Foursquare CEO Jeff Glueck said in a blog post. “This showed us that retail performance over the full weekend was significantly higher in states that allow shopping on Thanksgiving Day.”

Pent-Up Demand, Missed Opportunity

Foursquare’s data, which looked at explicit check-ins (from its Swarm app) and passive visits (from both its Flagship discovery app and Swarm over Thanksgiving weekend 2016) indicated that “shopping between the hours of midnight and 3 a.m. accounts for only 3 percent of the total US foot traffic to the top 500 retailers on Black Friday.”

But in a sign of the pent-up demand for deals, the store traffic in those same middle-of-the-night hours reached as high as 14 percent in Maine, followed by 9 percent lift in visits in Massachusetts, and 5 percent in Maine.

“We found another, even stronger indicator that these shoppers are highly motivated; in New Hampshire, 29 percent of retail traffic on Thanksgiving Day is made up by visitors from Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Maine (a significantly higher proportion than an average Thursday),” Glueck said.

But pent-up demand is easily satisfied, as New Hampshire’s Blue Law State neighbors can attest: 60 percent of these same visitors did not make Black Friday shopping visits the following day back in their home state retail stores.

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What Were the most important Local SEO Trends In 2017?

Unlike any year in recent memory, 2017 has generated more dramatic changes for brick-and-mortar businesses seeking to manage their discoverability and engagement strategies when it comes via search.

Search consultancy Local SEO Guide looked at 200-plus search ranking factors in 150 cities covering keywords, website landing pages, reviews, citations, photos, link profiles, and more, and found that businesses are making consumer connections differently than previously.

The report, 2017 Local SEO Ranking Factors, surveyed search performance, noting that reviews are becoming much more important versus traditional SEO drivers such as citations and listings. (That said, “inconsistent” citations and listings are a major issue that local businesses ignore at their peril, according to CDK Global, an integrated marketing company focused automotive dealers across 27,000 retail locations in over 100 countries.)

Overall, as businesses examine their SEO strategies for the holiday season, we’ve noted that retailers have remained challenged by search.

For example, SMBs generally have been shifting SEO and advertising towards greater spending on social media marketing, perhaps de-emphasizing search in the rush to expand efforts across Facebook/Instagram and Snapchat.

“Many of our clients still view social and search as totally separate marketing strategies,” Josh Markham, SVP of Digital Media Products at local marketing platform ReachLocal, has told GeoMarketing. “We believe local businesses should be viewing their marketing efforts comprehensively (not as silos) so they can understand which programs work best together. When businesses rely on only one marketing tactic, they are likely missing out on consumers in a different phases of their buying journey. In addition, consumers have different preferences for consuming information, so the combined effort is more effective than a singular effort.”

For the most part, the changes impacting search are determined by an obvious player, notes Andrew Shotland, founder and CEO of Local SEO Guide.

“The data suggests that Google, while attempting to shift to more engagement-based and locally relevant factors for its Local algorithm, is still susceptible to the traditional organic SEO tactics,” Shotland says. “The immaturity of the Local algorithm combined with the power of a focused SEO effort can yield outsized benefits for smart location-marketers. This study illustrates the foundational building blocks of a Local SEO campaign with the goal of helping marketers prioritize their investments in tactics that will move the needle.”

We caught up with Dan Leibson, Local SEO, VP of Search for Local SEO Guide, to get deeper look into the company’s findings and what the implications are in 2018 for local businesses and search.

GeoMarketing: What were the most important local SEO trends in 2017?

Dan Leibson: I think the most important thing we noticed in the 2017 Local SEO Ranking Factors study was the continued movement towards non-traditional local rankings factors. Traditionally, things like citations have played an overwhelmingly large part of ranking in Google’s local search results, though now that seems to be shifting largely to traditional organic ranking factors — like links —  and newer factors, like reviews.

In terms of whether Google has shifted away from “traditional” local signal, what kinds of new signals are emerging? And how meaningful is the shift for local businesses?

Most importantly, I think that it means that local businesses need to focus on SEO holistically. This means having a solid organic search strategy, and also working on a review strategy. Both of these will return dividends for most location based businesses.

What is “Google My Business (GMB) spam?”

I’ve actually written a bit about this. Well, most of the “spam” people talk about on GMB isn’t actually spam. Google and some local SEO’s have taken to calling Google My Business profiles that violate Google’s Guidelines as spam. I’m not a fan of this at all, spam is generally black-hat or illegal tactics, not things that are basic terms of service violations. This type of “spam” is akin to jailbreaking or unlocking a cell phone.

How important is GMB for local businesses versus offerings from Facebook and other platforms?

Google is almost exclusively the only game in town. While Yelp does have a commanding second place position in some markets (major metro) and some verticals (hospitality/retail/service) they are far from being a true competitor to Google. Facebook has a lot of potential in the space, and make starts and stops of really going after local discovery, but again don’t have the kind of across the board adoption of Google search (at least in local).

Are local search marketers embracing voice-activation via Alexa, Okay Google, Siri, Cortana, Bixby?

I think marketing technologists are embracing voice-activation because they see the potential in the future. Right now though, there really isn’t much to do.

What are you expecting (and what would you like) to see more of — or less of — in the local search space in 2018?

With the recent relaunch of Facebook’s local product, it’s setting the stage for a really interesting year. Other than that, I would expect marketers to continue to market voice search. It also wouldn’t surprise me to see some pivots & consolidation in the local tools market, as the dominance of a few key players (like Yext) will likely cause some companies with competitive products to re-evaluate their long term plans. [Full disclosure: Yext is GeoMarketing’s parent company. More details on that relationship here]

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Can Retailers Combat ‘Webrooming’ With NinthDecimal’s Website-To-Store Attribution?

Forrester Research estimates that “webrooming — online research to in-store purchase (see showrooming on mobile) —  will hit $1.8 trillion in sales this year.

For location analytics provider NinthDecimal, webrooming represents a need for marketing solutions that help brands understand, and capitalize on, omnichannel behavior. Or, as David Staas, president of NinthDecimal, notes, brick-and-mortar brands can’t just worry about the impact of mobile commerce competition.

That’s the premise behind NinthDecimal’s expanded offline attribution platform, Location Conversion Index, which will now measure “website effectiveness” in driving digital consumers into physical stores.

The company has partnered with CRM specialist Ansira to further test this new website-to-store attribution solution. Initial findings from the first phase of the collaboration, which span Ansira clients across QSR, auto, and retail verticals, showed:

  • Mobile generated a higher incremental lift in store visits than tablet and desktop
  • Paid search traffic drove the highest website-to-store conversion rates (1.7x greater than direct site traffic)
  • Direct site traffic drove the highest lift in incremental store visits

“Website LCI’s insights highlight the importance for brands to build a successful plan in order to reach and convert omnichannel shoppers who are visiting their website,” said Jim Badum, EVP of Client Partnership at Ansira. “It is a prodigious opportunity for brands using their web presence to increase foot traffic to their physical locations.”

We checked in with NinthDecimal’s Staas on how the new feature and new alliance will help retailers close the gap between website purchases and real-work transactions.

GeoMarketing: How does the focus on “website to store” attribution differ from what NinthDecimal has done in the past?

David Staas: NinthDecimal got started using the industry’s first location signal, Wi-Fi, and then expanded into mobile as developers began creating location-based services. That expansion resulted in Location Graph, the industry’s first audience solution powered by location data. Since then, NinthDecimal has continued to build unique data services addressing some of the industry’s biggest needs: offline attribution, physical world consumer insights, household-device graph for omni-channel services, CRM activation and programmatic data.

Does it augment or supersede NinthDecimal’s existing measurement products?

NinthDecimal’s omnichannel measurement portfolio, which includes LCI, transaction data, TV tune-in and other forms of measurement, has been adopted by some of the largest agencies in the world and now has more than 250 integrated partners including the largest media companies, DSPs, and advertising networks in the industry.

As a result, NinthDecimal has become the industry standard for third-party measurement across the advertising ecosystem. Today NinthDecimal’s measurement platform helps brands measure the effect of digital advertising (both mobile and online), TV advertising across linear, addressable and OTT, as well as OOH, print and other forms of media.

Website LCI is the next innovation in our measurement portfolio, addressing the next big need for marketers – namely connecting their e-commerce and in-store assets for today’s emerging omni-channel shopper. Website LCI expands a brand’s visibility into all of its website traffic marketing strategies, such as paid and organic search. In addition, Website LCI goes beyond media and ad campaigns to provide a more comprehensive view of marketing impact across the business. It offers a new set of “always on” performance metrics and business intelligence that allows brands to close the gap between online and offline shopping behaviors with their customers.

Why is website to store important? Is it about closing a gap, or does the mobile and desktop browser risk being neglected by platform companies and brands as everyone becomes more app-focused?

Despite the massive revenue opportunity that omnichannel consumers represent, marketers haven’t had visibility into the overlap between website visits and store visitors in order to capitalize on this growing shopping behavior. And for those marketers who have made massive investments in their websites, they still struggle to connect that investment to results beyond the web. As reflected in the findings from the NinthDecimal and Ansira study, Website LCI is able to help marketers fill the “blind spot” around understanding and developing omni-channel consumers for the first time.

Is the website to store feature being offered to clients across the board, or only as a requested-basis?

Website LCI is an always-on measurement product being offered to new and existing clients. Through NinthDecimal’s LCI Dashboard, subscribers can create an ongoing analysis of performance, quarterly foot traffic lift reports, visitation trends, and audience insights. This is all supported by a dedicated account management team to handle everything from implementation to analysis and recommendations. In addition, NinthDecimal will curate these online and offline customer audiences for brand activation and follow on engagement.

Can we mention any advertisers specifically who have tested the website to store function?

The findings from the NinthDecimal and Ansira joint study are based on actual implementations of Website LCI for major QSR, auto, and retail brands. With this type of marketing insights these brands have been able to uncover important trends related to their website traffic. For example, mobile generated a higher incremental lift in store visits than tablet and desktop while paid search traffic drove the highest website-to-store conversion rates. With this type of insights, each of the brands included in the study have been able to measure how effective they are at closing the gap between offline and online shopping behaviors.

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The Omnichannel Challenge: When It Comes To ‘Click-And-Collect,’ US Retail Lags

As Amazon continues to open fulfillment centers to get orders to customers even faster, the offer of shop online and in-store/curbside pickup by U.S. retailers is far behind their global peers.

Only 29 percent of  major U.S. retailers offer click-and-collect services — a significant gap from the 67 percent of their UK counterparts, citing an OrderDynamics study of more than 1,000 retail websites.

The retail brands with at least 10 brick-and-mortar stores in the U.S., the UK, Australia, Canada and the three Nordic countries of Sweden, Finland and Norway. US retailers represented about a third of the sample.

Even more troubling than the comparative lack shop online, pick-up in-store offerings, the retailers that do have that capability aren’t doing a lot to let customers know about it.

Just 38.5 percent highlight shop online/in-store pickup on their homepage, versus more than half to two-thirds of retailers in each of the six other countries in the study.

“This means that the American retail environment is still in the early phase of omnichannel adoption,” the report said. Despite the US being a world leader in marketing, it said, it is the worst at advertising in-store pickup offerings.

One of the issues retailers appear to have is the disconnect between online and brick-and-mortar sales. Too often, retailers’ departments remain “siloed” into two areas.

For example, the study found that when it comes to free-shipping offers, the U.S. actually leads: 67 percent of US retailers offer free-shipping, compared to 55 percent in the Nordics region.

Walmart is even making free-shipping a big part of its e-commerce marketing effort.

Walmart SVP and CMO Tony Rogers speaking at at the ANA’s Masters of Marketing conference this week, discussed the retail giant’s forthcoming holiday advertising which highlights its free-shipping.

“Free shipping two-day for orders over $35,” said Rogers, Adweek reported, adding a dig at Amazon Prime’s subscription delivery program. “No membership fee because, you know, we just don’t think you should have to pay $99 a year for the privilege of free shipping.”

 

 

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What Location Strategies Are Major Brands Using To Make Retail Relevant Again?

The challenges of omnichannel retail are well known by major brands and while the situation is largely a “glass half full,” there are signs that marketers’ focus is sharpening when it comes to using location data to shape the way they understand and reach their customers.

That’s the gist of a report by location data provider Blis, which rounded up thoughts by marketing executives at Verizon, Microsoft, Coca-Cola, Best Buy, DSW and Chili’s. It explores the current thinking by retail marketers on how to leverage location data to bolster their marketing strategies.

The report, Transforming Customer Engagement with Location-Based Technologies, finds that brands feeling confident in their ability to employ geo-data to drive foot traffic.

Executives at of DSW and Coca-Cola in particular emphasized location data’s ability to allow for greater personalization and context when communicating with their customers, while Microsoft and Verizon touted location insights as providing the connective tissue among a range of media channels as well as emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence/machine learning, voice-activation and Connected Intelligence, and smart homes/cars.

The bottom line: location is essential to communication between brands and consumers in terms of promoting discovery and engagement.

John Carroll, VP General Manager, E-Commerce, Coca-Cola North America: “It’s important that the linkage between what we’re trying to communicate with our brand to what the consumer is doing contextually is clear. It’s also important that we have the opportunity to really drive an experience online, whether through video, creative banner ads, or creative copy. We want to have a brand-building experience online and to drive purchase closer to the shopper.”

Wade Allen, VP Digital Guest Experience & Analytics, Chili’s (Brinker International): “Considering the way consumers use their mobile phones and the need for immediacy in our society, you can’t help but question whether or not we should shift more money out of television advertising and into the digital world. I don’t know what the right percentage is, but my belief is we can’t follow the 80/20 or 90/10 model anymore. Instead, we need to get closer to a 60/40 or 65/35 model with the smaller amount being digital.”

Shari Rossow, VP Retail Operations, Best Buy: “We’re trying to make it easier for customers to start and stop anywhere. It’s now a basic expectation for how we all shop.”

Beth Rick, Sr. Director, Transformation, DSW Inc.: “If you had every single piece of customer data, you could organically become a part of their lives wherever they are. You would be in the fabric of everything, because you would know where they’re located, what information they’re looking at, how they’re using it, what they’re interested in, what their behaviors are; and at that point in time, we would just try to make shoes part of their life… They would just think about shoes and DSW is the place they would go.”

ShiSh Shridhar, Director, Business Development, Data, Analytics & IoT, Microsoft: Retail Sector: “That physical experience is one aspect of it: digital and physical should complement each other. The other aspect is that there will be a lot more channels embedded into how we buy. There are a lot of capabilities available today through things such as cognitive services and artificial intelligence that are going to be used. For instance, the phone camera becomes a channel. We will be capable of pointing a phone camera at a product such as a pair of shoes someone is wearing, and the phone can identify what those shoes are, show prices at different retailers, and then we can buy with a single click.”

Jamie Crespi, Blis VP Marketing

We also checked in with Jamie Crespi, Blis VP Marketing, for her view of the questions posed by the company’s report.

GeoMarketing: What are retailers doing to engage with consumers more effectively in the digital space?

Jamie Crespi: As the findings of the report shows, personalization is top of the retailers’ agenda to get through to consumers across multiple digital touchpoints. It’s important that they use the abundance of data available to them to make their targeting as relevant and interesting as possible, while ensuring they’re serving the right ads on the right devices at the right moment.

This is where location data comes in, as it helps retailers to better understand their customers (and potential customers) and brings the physical and digital worlds ever-closer together. Location data is one of the richest forms of data available for retailers looking to engage with consumers more effectively. It provides brands with contextual insights while allowing them to understand the impact of ads on their consumers behaviors. Brands using location data are able to efficiently target potential customers and drive them in-store.

What is the business value of leveraging location data, and what are the potential risks?

Accurate location data means great message relevancy for brands which leads to a higher likelihood for consumer engagement. At the end of the day, reaching the right consumers with the relevant creative to drive an action is really what it’s all about. Additionally, as our contributors like ShiSh Shridhar of Microsoft and Beth Rick of DSW point out, driving in-store foot traffic is a major bonus to leveraging location data. It’s important to think about location data as an insights and planning tool, not just a means by which to deliver advertisements.

To many, leveraging location data (and leveraging it in a more robust way outside of just geofencing) is still a relatively new concept, but it’s quickly becoming absolutely integral for businesses with brick and mortar locations. Their businesses are reliant on people visiting their stores – for this reason, there’s no reason not to test it.

Source: Blis

How will location-based technologies become part of a greater digital strategy?

David Garcia, Director of Experience Innovation at Verizon, makes a really interesting point when he says how exciting the idea of converging location services with other emerging techs such as AI and IoT are.

At Blis, we’ve already started to use machine learning to predict where consumers will go to offer richer insights to brands and allow for better planning. Being able to accurately identify people who we know are either highly likely or definitely going to visit a store is invaluable as it eliminates waste in spend and increases campaign performance; and this is something we can do with the help of AI.

As David puts it, when these things start to click, you’ll see things you couldn’t have imagined. We believe it’s crucial to keep innovating to better understand consumers.

What trends will have the most impact on location-based advertising in 2018 and why?

One of the biggest developments of 2017 has been a shift towards Cost-per-Visit (CPV) models of measurement. We were early adopters back in April, and have begun to charge clients based only on the people that actually visit target locations. The response has been great as it reduces the risk for advertisers who aren’t sure if they’re getting good returns on their investments and puts the onus back on the vendors. We feel this movement will only grow and develop into 2018, as more platforms like ours move away from click-based metrics and towards models which foster more trusting relationships between vendors, agencies and their brands.

What impact will voice activation/intelligent assistants like Alexa, Siri, Okay Google have on the way geo-data is used for marketing and advertising?

This again ties in with David’s point, and it’s certainly going to be exciting to see how these types of technologies will combine. Ever since they’ve come onto the scene, brands have been wondering how best to harness their potential. One of the key benefits of these services, like Siri & Okay Google, being on your handheld devices is that you can use them when you’re out and about. I’d bet that plenty of voice searches are relevant to their location, as you may need to be reactive when looking for a business or service and this is when your intelligent assistant knowing where you are will come in handy. It also gives local businesses new opportunities to pick up customers.

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Amazon To Open Its First Fulfillment Center In New York To Expand Faster Delivery

Amazon is moving aggressively to expand its promise of near-immediate delivery and physical pick-up options for its online shoppers by rapidly opening up fulfillment centers in major cities.

“We are excited to bring our first fulfillment center to New York and work alongside the state’s incredible workforce,” said Sanjay Shah, Amazon’s vice president of Customer Fulfillment, in a statement. “The support of local leaders has been instrumental in our ability to come to New York, and we are grateful for the welcome we’ve received to bring thousands of new jobs with benefits starting on day one.”

The fulfillment center comes a few months after the opening of Amazon opened its first brick-and-mortar bookstore in New York City as a showcase for its online/offline ambitions.

Amazon On The Move

Amazon employees at the 855,000-square-foot Staten Island fulfillment center will work alongside robotics to pick, pack and ship customer items such as household essentials, books and toys.

With the creation of its latest fulfillment center, which is coming to Staten Island, NY, coupled with the closing of its $13.7 billion acquisition of Whole Foods, Amazon’s pressure on established brick-and-mortar businesses’ omnichannel strategies is apt to be felt even more acutely as the holiday season approaches.

Over the summer, Amazon has expanded its discounts and two-day shipping with its Prime membership option, and has just heralded its Instant Pickup option, retailers have turned to one advantage they still possess — at least for the moment — in relation to Amazon: proximity to their customers and known inventory, which makes it possible to offer the ultimate convenience of letting someone click “buy” and then having it brought to them within a few hours.

Meanwhile, Amazon’s instant-pickup has already begun in Los Angeles, Atlanta, Berkeley, CA., Columbus, Ohio, and College Park, Md. Initially, the items available with Instant Pickup include snacks, drinks and electronics, as well as some of Amazon’s most popular devices.

Amazon’s latest offering represents an expansion of the same-day pickup service at the 22 locations it began opening in 2015. These same locations will serve as Instant Pickup depots for Amazon Prime customers.

While available for free to Prime and Prime Student members, the program strikes at the heart of what has so far remained brick-and-mortar brands’ clear advantage over e-commerce: immediacy.

Omnichannel Pressure

New York represents one of its biggest tests.

Rivals like Target have been getting ready for the challenge. For example, Target’s purchase of San Francisco-based transportation tech company Grand Junction last month is designed to better position it against Amazon’s speedy delivery.

Grand Junction’s software platform is used by retailers, distributors, and “third-party logistics providers to manage local deliveries through a network of more than 700 carriers

Target and Grand Junction have currently been working on a same-day delivery pilot program for the Target store in New York’s Tribeca neighborhood. By 2018, Target plans to roll out same-day delivery to unspecified major cities, said Arthur Valdez, Target’s executive vice president, chief supply chain and logistics officer.

Target’s move follows similar tests by Walmart. In addition, same-day, app-based grocery delivery platform Instacart has lately been racking up partnerships with Costco, Key Food, CVS, and others.

The trend towards same-day delivery is becoming a wider retail imperative not reserved for discount shopping and food service.

Earlier this month, Office Depot announced  its same-day delivery program. The initiative kicks off on August 28 in Atlanta, Georgia and Los Angeles, California; and on September 6 in Ft. Lauderdale/Miami, Florida.

“With our new same-day delivery and our omnichannel approach, we are utilizing our retail stores as assets and part of our supply chain to give our customers the best possible experience,” said Office Depot CEO Gerry Smith.

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