Shoppers are interacting with brands and products across more channels than ever before, making the importance of connecting with customers wherever they look to buy a key aspect of a successful business strategy for all retailers. And while social and mobile commerce continue to own the majority of voice in regards to ecommerce innovation, there is another emerging trend that is a great predictor of brand success: the convergence of offline and online storefronts.
Offline stores are now successfully using online efforts to drive physical foot traffic and boost brand awareness –– no matter which channel their customer is currently shopping. After all, people use the web to research purchases regardless of where they intend to make them. This means that someone using Amazon or Google to research product options may very well pick up that item in-store while running errands, or via a mobile app when their friend likes a product. There is no longer one discovery channel. The possibilities are nearly endless.
Like many retailers, Google has taken notice of this new shopper discovery pattern. Recent Google announcements and feature testings point to a convergence of advertising efforts for businesses with both an online and brick-and-mortar location.
Here is what Google has coming down the pipeline, and how your business can begin to prepare for these new tools.
Nearby Store Reminders in Adwords
Location-based reminders — mobile notifications based on a person’s proximity to a given address — are not new to Google Now and iPhones. But Google is working on increasing their visibility with a new AdWords feature that prompts users to ask for location-based reminders when they see a PPC ad.
Source: The SEM Post
AdWords reminders are not generally available and appear to be in limited testing with a few major retailers including JCPenney, Macy’s and Kohl’s. Although they may not be widespread for some time, their mere existence is indicative of a larger trend: omnichannel merchants using online marketing campaigns to simultaneously promote an online presence and physical store.
Not only do these campaigns make sense for medium-agnostic customers — they allow omnichannel merchants to maximize the awareness and potential ROI from a single message. It’s unlikely that any web user would see a Macy’s ad and be completely unaware that they have a storefront. But omnichannel marketing is all about making it as easy as possible for customers to get what they want, and this type of effort leverages a physical store location to appeal to customers who may not want to wait for shipping or think to visit the brick-and-mortar location.
This isn’t the first time AdWords has offered a platform to cross-promote. Black Friday structured snippet headers allow omnichannel merchants to advertise a store’s opening time while also driving traffic to their website. Google is clearly making a concerted effort to let merchants get the most out of their multi-billion dollar advertising platform, and as the consumer experience continues to transcend channels, the opportunities will only increase.
Google Incentivizing Maps Reviews
Google has long offered review functionality on Maps listings, but engagement has paled in comparison to review giants like Yelp. Google is trying to change that. The program previously known as City Experts was rebranded Local Guides, and Google is offering incentives for users to improve and expand on business reviews.
The points-based system offers a user badge at the low end and tops out with a trip to the annual Google Summit. So what does this mean for omnichannel merchants?
If wildly successful, Google reviews could become the most visible source for “review”-type queries, supplanting both Yelp and ecommerce feedback websites. While far from guaranteed, Google is one of the rare entities that warrant such lofty expectations. Fair or not, people’s feedback of in-store experiences could rank extremely high for branded review queries — especially given Google’s propensity for geo-targeting. Google’s chief aim is to deliver relevant results, and whether the query specifies a location or not, it will be taken into account.
Google’s homemade algorithm factors quantity and quality of reviews into related SERPs. If their own review system picks up steam and grows rapidly, it could become the most common way for users to read reviews about omnichannel businesses. This is undoubtedly one of the primary goals of the program. Google has always claimed that its rankings are completely unbiased — an assertion not exactly refuted by Google’s recruitment of an SEO Manager — but it’s perfectly fair game to take full advantage of their own search algorithm’s inner workings to design a program intended to maximize rankings for “review” queries.
Though the success of Local Guides is still very much in question, its potential is undeniable. The biggest takeaway for omnichannel merchants is to view all forms of brand validation — reviews, testimonials and PR — as one collective perception. A disgruntled customer leaving a negative review for a particular store location can still very much affect the perception of the online experience. Take all public feedback seriously and assume it will be seen by a wide audience.
When ecommerce influencers like Google make moves toward issuing new tools and programs like the ones outlined above — which aim to coalesce offline and online storefronts — you can rest assured that any omnichannel strategy you put in place now will pay off in dividends in the near future.
Photo: Flickr, Sage Solar
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