by Alex Porter/president, Location3
Special to The Shelby Report
Amazon’s announcement to buy Whole Foods Market is another example of retail conglomerates moving in on brick-and-mortar stores’ turf, and upending the traditional retail industry with cheaper prices and more product. While maybe not surprising, it does have its pros and cons. Consumers who shop at both are surely to benefit, as they can now pick up online grocery orders and return unwanted items in store, without the hassle of shipping. But what about your grocery down the block, or your neighborhood supermarket? They still have a fighting chance, but it’s crucial that they increase their level of sophistication when it comes to leveraging customer data and “near me” search data to keep their existing customers coming back, and connecting with more customers in their immediate vicinity.
The Importance of local search
Amazon’s move does not mean supermarkets and grocers should begin slashing prices and copying Amazon’s online strategies. Instead, rethink your marketing strategies and focus on incorporating local search techniques to increase incremental customer acquisition.
Every day, people search on mobile or desktops for things nearby by conducting localized, non-branded searches, which are aimed at finding locations near where they happen to be. This includes finding directions to a local store/business, checking store hours, or searching for stores that have an item in stock. But what some brands don’t realize is just how important local search is to the overall customer experience.
Retailers also need to consider mobile, as most consumers are researching and shopping on the go. According to Google, searches on mobile containing the phrase “near me” have shot up 146 percent year-over-year, making “near-me” search the most distinctly mobile of all search queries. It presents the opportunity to drive the most immediate conversions—especially for retailers who are looking to increase foot traffic and conversion rates. Or consider voice search and virtual assistants like Siri and Alexa. Over half of U.S. teens and 41 percent of U.S. adults use voice search daily, with usage continuing to pick up. After conducting a local search on their mobile device, 50 percent of consumers will visit a brick-and-mortar brand within one day. Yet, many brands miss out on a huge chunk of these search queries and resulting online-to-offline customer foot traffic.
The problem is most brands often incorrectly focus on keywords that are either too broad or only directly related to their brand, like “Sun Chips” or “Pringles.” Often, shoppers do not start searching with a particular brand in mind, but for a few keywords that will cater to their needs. People are increasingly using search terms like “best place to buy steaks near me” rather than looking for a specific brand or product. To better capture those consumers, stores need to optimize for two categories of keywords: non-branded keywords and long-tail, research-oriented terms like “best supermarkets in Manhattan.” Those who are not catering to what their consumers are searching for are not only wasting significant dollars on searches that aren’t effective, but also letting brand-agnostic consumers who might be more inclined to visit one of their locations ultimately get away.
How Amazon and Whole Foods will affect consumers
There are many different types of consumers. Some prefer shopping at large retailers while others prefer mom-and-pop shops. Because a common neighborhood will be filled with various degrees of shoppers, tuning a local search strategy that applies to all consumers, separately and individually, is the challenge retailers face.
Amazon is known for offering low prices, which begs the question: why should a consumer shop at your local store instead of Amazon? Because local stores are creating a one-of-a-kind, in-store experience. Many supermarkets and grocers deploy loyalty programs, which incentivize consumers as well because they can collect rewards with their purchases, and redeem personalize in-store discounts. Not only does this increase foot traffic, it provides the retailers with a chance to utilize data to learn more about their customers. If a mother is shopping for her two young kids, provide her with coupons for snack boxes and juices. Alternatively, a student might not care about children’s food, but would love discounts on cheap prepared meals. Utilizing your customer data can not only create a better experience for your shopper, it can also make them feel important and appreciated.
Local stores can compete with Amazon and Whole Foods, they just need a little nudge in the right direction. My advice? Embrace technology and make sure you’re utilizing all the data gathered. Customers can tell you a lot about their shopping habits, simply by what they’re searching for online or what they’re purchasing. Capitalize on that, and strive to create truly exceptional in-store and offline shopping experiences. Your stores might not be the next Amazon or Whole Foods but, by making your customers’ visits pleasant, you can ensure they’ll be back.