Browsing There remains the option to browse a full physical product range in-store as per the traditional retail offering. But I should also be able to browse the full product range online with customisation options, calculators and other assistance wizards for certain product categories. Newer store formats won’t necessarily stock their full range, but will be able to provide samples for demonstration purposes, to touch or to try on. Both physical store formats will be able to offer me product advice and take required measurements. I should also be able to browse the retailer’s online store while I’m in the physical store via terminals or supplied wirelessly connected tablets.
Ordering I should be able to order online anywhere for later delivery, including from any of the retailer’s physical stores via their own website or through an in-store staff member.
Delivery I should be given options to have the item shipped to a home or office address, picked up from any of the retailer’s physical stores, or delivered to a locally nominated pick-up facility with 24/7 access.
Returns I should be able to return a mail-sized item to a local postal address, irrespective of where the retailer is based. I should also be able to drop the item off at any of their physical stores, or leave it at the same local facility with 24/7 access that I picked it up from originally.
Refunds I should have the option to keep an online account with a credit balance, have the refund paid back into my financial institution, or to collect the cash amount from any of the retailer’s physical stores.
1. Claim & Optimise Your Google Places Business Listing/s
Google has mapped the street address locations of almost every business in Australia – it’s called Google Places. Your business will more than likely have its own Place page already, and now you as the business owner must claim and optimise it. This is an important step: Google favours its own business Place listings on page 1 search results when people are searching locally for products, services and brands. ‘Local’ search examples would include ‘Melbourne dentists’, ‘cake shops Elwood’ or ‘Jasper coffee suppliers in Toowoomba’. Google can also serve your Places business listings if people are searching using a GPS enabled device – the physical proximity of the searcher triggers ‘nearby’ businesses based on the product, service or brand keywords that were searched on.
If you don’t claim your listing and tell Google exactly what it is that you do as a business, Google can’t potentially serve your listing within its page 1 results for people searching online for your goods or services. Furthermore, once your listing is claimed you can include and edit additional information such as opening hours, geographic service areas (as a km radius or specific towns/ suburbs), email and website address, payment forms accepted, images, videos, and even redeemable coupon offers. Google Places is a free service.
2. Optimise Your Own Website Yourself (sure you can)
People can’t type anything but keywords into Google when they’re searching for a product or service, and don’t know who’s got what; so, for example, if you stated on your website that you’re a ‘Melbourne Beauty Salon’ and you offer ‘special bodily treats for the soul’, this would be misaligned information for a person searching for a ‘pedicurist in North Fitzroy’ (assuming you offered pedicure, and were located in North Fitzroy). Google can’t make inference leaps on your behalf.
You must be clear and explicit about your product and service provisions, and your geographic locations and/ or service areas; this information must then be positioned in the keyword language that people within your target segments would logically use to solve their problems or meet their needs based on what you do as a business.
3. Come to Terms with Online Reviews (you can’t control the winds, but you can trim the sails)
It’s a fact of life: people will start posting online reviews for your business at an increasing rate as more people work out how to do it, and how easily done it is. For retailers, the big review syndication sites to watch out for are TrueLocal and the soon to be introduced US based review platform, Yelp. Google user reviews also need your attention – these reviews are incorporated into business Google Places listings (see point 1) alongside reviews from third party platforms. Given that Google Places business listings often appear on page 1 search results, these reviews have high potential visibility.
If you have existing happy customers and clients, now would be the time to start asking them for their online reviews. Put a buffer of positive sentiment in place before you cop your first spray – it will lessen the pain of only having one visible review, and it being a bad one. And some motherhood advice: don’t post positive reviews for yourself or negative reviews for your competitors – it’s just not something a proud professional would do.
Some retailers offer products or services that people will search on through their phones just before they need it, e.g. restaurants, hotels, cinemas, tourist services. These types of businesses should invest in a parallel mobile website which is optimised for viewing on smaller screens. A mobile friendly site is a scaled down version of your standard website but with fewer pages, fewer graphics, and a focus on up-front key business information: street address, opening hours, contact number, tickets prices, booking forms, etc.
5. Check into Your Own Foursquare Business Listing/s
Foursquare is a relatively new but fast growing social media platform which enables people to ‘check-in’ to physical locations via an app on a GPS enabled device (mostly smartphones). People can upload photos, and leave tips – positive and negative – about businesses that future users will find when they check-in. As a business owner you should claim each of your Foursquare business listings, if for no other reason than to stop somebody elese illegitimately claiming them. Once you’ve done this you can expand your business information and get access to the check-in data of all the people who have ever checked-in to your business via Foursquare: their gender, age-group, and often times their photo, and Twitter and Facebook handles. Go to the next level and start pushing out specials or promotions to people who are checking into directly to your business, or to other businesses within walking distance to you.
A relatively new Google platform in Australia (June ’11). If you have an ecommerce platform Google is offering to serve your products and prices through their Google Shopping search vertical. There is no charge for this. Be aware however that Google Shopping is fundamentally a price comparison engine; this could be a good or a bad thing depending on how you’re positioned on price compared to other online enabled merchants offering the same products.
7. Mark Yourself Up (ask your developer about microformats)
Microfromats have been round a while, but they’re gaining momentum given their elevated profile within search results. Simply put, microformats are structured metadata about a category of information. When you structure specific types of content using universal microformat schemas you make it easier for search engines to connect people to your business and product/ service content, and in a variety of different ways. As a retailer you would want to mark-up information such as street address, opening hours, event dates, prices, reviews, cuisines (if you’re a restaurant), genres (if you’re an entertainment provider), authors (if you’re a bookseller), and so on. There are numerous categories with cross-over applications for any business offering – retail or otherwise.
See a micromat exampleusing marked up recipe and user review information – notice the filters on the side which make full use of the rich semantic data embedded within the webpages Google is drawing from.
8. Add Google+ to the Business Mix
Google + business pages will be released in the next while (currently only personal G+ profiles are allowed). Nobody knows how important these pages will become to businesses big or small, but word on the street is that they have the potential to surpass Facebook’s business pages in respect to online visibility, functionality, and customer communication integration. Think Google Places, reviews, Alerts/ monitoring, Gmail, YouTube, Analytics, video conferencing, and the +1 button under all under one roof. We’ll see.