Online Retail: Navigating the Modern Landscape

No, online shopping hasn’t overtaken brick and mortar retail yet. We wonder if it ever will. For now, we’re happy to report that most commerce is still happening right in our very own backyards, in physical brick and mortar locations all around us. The reason is twofold: consumers are still keen on experiencing the product before they make the purchase—through one or several of their five senses—and because no matter how fast the delivery says it is, we just don’t want to wait. As members of the instant gratification generation, it feels good to get the product you’re about to buy immediately.

For retailers, while focusing on digital outlets to support online commerce is important for their strategy, it’s also important to focus on digital to support offline commerce. For stores you have yet to patronize (and even some you do), what usually happens before you embark on that retail therapy? You check your phone or computer to learn a thing or two, be it store hours or product offerings, and then you make the decision to visit that establishment. Every physical location has a journey that begins online. 

The online journey, however, may not start at your website. Today, more than ever, third-party websites are furnishing information about your establishment. This creates vulnerabilities that can impact a prospective customer’s first impression of you. No matter how often we were told to never judge a book by its cover, we often do. For retailers that cover is your business listing —and that judgment directly translates to lost revenue. 

Though retailers differentiate in many ways, there are three specific challenges that affect them all equally.

Poor to No Data Accuracy 

As a consumer, how many times have you visited a retailer based on information on their website, only to find once you set foot in the door (if you got that far, assuming the establishment wasn’t closed when it said it was open!) that something was inaccurately represented on your their website? If you’re like the 71% of people in this recent study we conducted, you’ve experienced this at least once. We also evaluated 560 national retail chains and discovered that 52% of them had inaccurate data. The most basic information on Google Maps and Google My Business either had incorrect or completely missing addresses, phone numbers, business hours, or a combination of these.

Remember the time you checked online to find that a store was open, but when you got there, it was closed? How did it feel? How much worse does it feel knowing you did your due diligence? You went online, you checked their information, you got yourself to their establishment, and you chose them… but they didn’t choose you. The resentment you feel has likely tarnished your opinion and even if it’s not forever, this vulnerability is the exact time a consumer searches for someone else. 

It’s essential for brands to manage the accuracy of every store location they are responsible for, regardless of where it’s being found online. 

Inventory and Discoverability

“What you don’t know won’t hurt you.” Until it does. Let’s take my arrival to New York City as an example.

When I first moved to NYC, I had no furniture or even a bed to sleep on. I decided I would go buy an air mattress. 

Being in this large unfamiliar territory, I took out my phone and I searched for “air mattress” and located a department store that wasn’t particularly close or convenient, but it had what I needed. Since I am not a native New Yorker, I had to figure out how to get there via subway which was several stops and then hauled the heavy box back to my apartment. 

A few days later, I walked to a Walgreens a block away from my apartment, and I was appalled to see that it had plenty of air mattresses in stock. This is precisely one of those “Are you kidding me?” moments that we have all faced before and I was definitely not happy.  

Walgreens might be a big retailer, but they lost me as a customer simply because I did not know, and they did not tell me, even when I was asking. Chances are, similar things are happening around you every day. The takeaway is simple: accurate inventory is important on local business profile platforms, especially to avoid creating detractors due to inaction.

The Challenge of Content Curation

We live in the information overload era where everything and everyone is being broadcasted, tracked, and analyzed. Whether it’s a business, product, new TV show, persona, media outlet, it leaves a digital footprint behind.

With all the information out there, customers have the same expectations in terms of finding what they need when they need it. Consumers want their questions to be easily answered and the ability to make fast, clear decisions, and it’s imperative that brands deliver.

More importantly, though, brands need to review all the content that is out there. Have you ever searched for a location and gone through not-so-flattering images of a retail establishment before you visited? Thus, it is a brand’s responsibility to manage its identity across all channels and profiles.

Not all content is in the retailer’s control, and that is the most dangerous kind of content. What are your consumers telling their peers about their experience with your brand? To make sure that they are being your advocates and not your critics, they need to have the resources to do that, and if retailers aren’t taking responsibility to accurately represent themselves online, there will be repercussions. 

Online commerce should not overshadow physical commerce. After all, physical commerce is still alive and thriving. This means that every retailer needs to focus on a digital strategy that prioritizes physical location patronage, since that’s where most consumers have their first and most direct brand experience. And businesses can do exactly that by using a one-stop shop solution like Synup to help manage accuracy, discoverability, and content creation.

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