Geolocation critical for future of offline retail

U.S. Map
Accurate geolocation information can increase sales and foot traffic.

Geolocation has successfully helped more retailers to convert online ads to sales and foot traffic, but only if the geolocation is accurate. If geolocation is off, consumers can quickly lose trust in a brand, according to Tom Kuhr, senior vice president of marketing for MomentFeed, a Los Angeles-based customer experience platform for multilocation brands.

Why the difficulty in collecting the correct geolocation data? Kuhr says that each digital network has a unique methodology for managing data. Some, like Yahoo, import from third parties, while others, like Bing, gather data from maps and cameras. Some, like Yelp, even ask businesses to submit information directly. Therefore, every map service is only as good as its data. 

Plus, addresses change as new businesses open and close, and many services rely on retailers or consumers themselves to pull in this new information based on retail websites or Google searches. 

RELATED: Kmart geolocation trial: How close is close enough?

“These consumer-generated edits or consumer-generated 'store pages' create confusion and reduce information accuracy,” Kuhr said. “So, many locations are inaccurately mapped for a variety of reasons. And brands are just realizing that taking control of their digital assets can increase the mobile visibility by two times or more, and increase their in-store business by between two times and 10 times.” 

Still, geolocation is becoming an increasingly important part of retail in 2017. 

“Geolocation is what map and navigation apps and OEM navigation systems use to provide directions,” he said. “Most do not use postal addresses to route drivers. If a consumer navigates to the wrong place, that consumer will be dissatisfied with the brand and/or the navigation app itself.”

So how do retailers ensure they have reliable geolocation information?

Unfortunately, Kuhr says that there is no magic formula for perfection. To ensure data is accurate, some brands hire a company like MomentFeed to manage the cleanup process. 

“Most of our clients (99%) start with location or business data that is incorrect at some level,” he said. “As a first step in our engagement with any client, we validate, cleanse and append the information about each business so it's both accurate and representative of the unique attributes of that branch, restaurant or store.”

MomentFeed runs many automated processes, some manual processes, quality assurance and double-blind testing for its clients. After location information is cleansed, the company measures the delta of change, and usually the result is miles of incorrectly geocoded locations, inconsistent categories and descriptions, and hundreds of missing fields. 

“It's hard to see what's not there until the full cleanup is complete,” he added.

RELATED: Sephora rolls out geolocation

But again, Kuhr stresses that the correct geolocation information can be critical, as it can make or break a relationship with a consumer.

“This mistrust devalues the brand. Additionally, inaccurate information like incorrect store hours can also lead to disappointment and frustration,” he said. 

Kuhr names Sephora as an example of a retailer that is nailing geolocation. Many of their stores are in malls or inside JCPenney stores in malls, so they have an extra challenge in identifying exact geolocations of their front doors. MomentFeed has assisted Sephora in ensuring that consumers can get directly to the stores’ front doors.

“As 90% of goods and services are still purchased offline, and as smartphones and mobile devices are becoming an extension of all consumers of all ages, accurately representing every store in the best light possible will be the difference in brand growth and brand stagnation for retailers, restaurants, banks, insurance agents and even dry cleaners and salons. We're at the tip of the iceberg for improving customer experience through mobile,” Kuhr said.