In-store customers are more mobile than you think

“If you build it, they will come.” That was the eminently quotable line from Kevin Costner’s ‘90s smash, Field of Dreams. It’s also a philosophy that many an entrepreneur has taken on board to mean ‘just create a product and customers will flood in’. We can safely say there’s a bit more to it than that.

The idea that retailers can continue to drive footfall simply through having a bricks and mortar space is outdated, and yet – in some cases – perseveres. Latest figures from the British Retail Consortium would argue that is very much not the case. Footfall is down 1.9% on the high street year-on-year and 2.2% down in shopping centres. The vacancy rate has been rising every quarter since January 2018 and is now 10.3% of outlets.

More than a prominent location and some stylish window-dressing is needed to stay ahead of the game. Retailers are not just competing against a neighbour. They’re competing against any business that can provide a similar service in any location – and if a customer can find answers and products more easily elsewhere without suffering any great loss in their overall experience, they’ll go. To attract customers to you offline, you’ve got to be helpful to them everywhere – especially online.

Consumers today don’t step out of the door without doing research. Our studies show that mobile searches for the terms “near me” combined with “can I buy” or “to buy” have shot up 500% over the last two years. People are also searching on the spot as they’re out and about. Search interest in the term “open now” has tripled in the past two years.

To respond to these demanding consumers, bricks and mortar retailers need to make sure their online strategy is up to the task. Websites need to be mobile-first and they need to be fast. Business listings need to be up to date, reviews managed, location data complete. Ad campaigns need to be targeted and localised.

Retailers need to be looking into those analytics to find out what customers are searching for and when, to make sure they put themselves in front of those users. Finding out what those customers need, when they need it and serving them ads that capture the attention right in that critical moment are key defences between retailers and that growing vacancy rate.

To use a real life example: high-end audio retailer, Bose, had worked on its in-store experience to entice visitors to engage with the brand, but it also had to get them there in the first place. It worked with MediaCom Worldwide to design a mobile location strategy for the brand’s digital activity. It studied search queries and chose ad formats that spoke to the three main types of customer it attracted most often, and then used geo-targeting to increase bids by 20% within a five-mile radius of any Bose store.

The team used Google Local Campaigns to brand Bose store locations in Google Maps alongside new products and offers. When the logo was clicked, customers saw a message encouraging them to call or get directions to the shop as well as details on how to test out products in-store. They used remarketing and increased bids for in-market audiences, showing ads to people whose search behaviour suggested they were considering making an audio purchase.

As a result of this intensely localised activity, store visits increased by 50% year on year, driving revenue up 56%. Google Local Campaigns alone was responsible for 10,000 extra people through the door within the first week and, by interacting with in-store customers online, Bose gained a wealth of customer behaviour data that could be shared across the business.

It’s time bricks and mortar retailers acknowledged that all their customers are digital, whether they’re in-store or not. By tapping into their 24/7 search activity, not only will retailers learn more about what drives customer behaviour, it will put their store in front of the consumer at key moments of consideration. Customers aren’t turning away from shopping local, they’re turning towards shopping clever and retailers need to get on board with this new reality.