Does Foot Traffic Still Matter on Main Street?

Is Foot Traffic Still Important on Main Street?

Has location, location, location turned into mobile, mobile, mobile? In other words, does store foot traffic still matter more than geo-targeting, mobile marketing and online sales?

Small Business Trends reached out to several marketing experts for advice and compiled the following recommendations based on what they shared.

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Is Foot Traffic Still Important?

Priority Depends on Business Type

Bridget Weston Pollack, vice president of marketing and communications for SCORE, said that the priority depends on the business type and other factors.

“Even though mobile marketing is becoming more important, the short answer is that it depends on the kind of business, the city you’re in and what you’re trying to sell,” she said. “Location is everything to a coffee shop, bistro or even a trampoline park. But what’s critical is marrying the two: utilizing geo-targeting and mobile marketing to drive traffic in-store.”

Pollack added that for service businesses, such as plumbers or home repair, location retains some degree of importance, though not to the same extent as retail shops.

“Operationally, depending on the area you want to serve, you need to pay attention to how far drivers are driving,” she said. “You want to be located in a place that has easy access to customers.”

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Ratings and Reviews Matter

Pollack also said that local businesses need to pay attention to Yelp and similar rating sites because consumers are using their mobile devices to search there.

Websites Must Be Mobile-friendly

Matt Wagner, vice president of revitalization programs at the National Main Street Center in Chicago, told Small Business Trends, “People have been utilizing mobile devices to shop and find things for some time. As such, web content must be mobile-friendly. When developing a retail website, business owners must keep that in mind.”

Main Street Businesses Should Create Partnerships

Much like anchor stores in a mall, some small businesses serve as destinations, which other nearby businesses depend on for traffic, said Wagner. In that respect, companies should partner when possible, so that one benefits from the other. He also advised downtown associations to host special events (e.g., art walks, sidewalk sales, concerts) to drive foot traffic.

Experiential Shopping Is Important

“Mobile is a tool for shopping but it doesn’t remove the need for business owners to think of ‘place’ as a critical component of how they will run and operate their business,” Wagner went on to say. “Experiential shopping is an important part of brick and mortar shopping. People still want to feel the merchandise.”

Businesses Should Use Online Channels to Drive Offline Traffic

Vedran Tomic, the founder of Local Ants, LLC, a local Internet marketing agency, said that people need to treat marketing as a singularity when it comes to channels.

“You can’t market only online,” he said. “The consumer does not see things that way. In other words, they don’t just say ‘I’m only going to search Google.’ Instead, they ask family and friends for recommendations, rely on social media, use search engines and other means to find what they’re looking for.”

Tomic recommended that businesses see foot traffic as a result of marketing activities, and vice-versa.

“They feed each other and are interdependent,” he said. “You can drive and track offline sales using online channels. For example, make exclusive offers online using a coupon, which the person takes to the store. You can track that way.”

He also advised businesses to offer the best mobile experience possible through their websites but noted that it’s “mobile first, not mobile only.”

Social media marketing consultant Rachel Strella said the question is not whether one takes priority over the other but, rather, how to unite the two.

“I’ll use social media to illustrate my point,” she said. “If someone is in a restaurant and ‘checks-in’ or ‘mentions’ the Facebook page of that location, that’s something the owner can use to attract friends to the business. Likewise, let’s say someone in Harrisburg (Pa.) is searching for a place to eat and that person stumbles upon a page in which a friend has ‘checked-in;’ he or she may be more inclined to dine at that restaurant.

“This effect is heightened with reviews and specific posts to the page … any service that has the capability to search for an interest by location — Google, Yelp, Trip Advisor and Open Table — enables consumers to decide where they want to go based on the feedback from other guests.”

Strella added that a business would be smart to encourage behaviors that get people talking about them online, principally positive experiences they can share with an online community.

Other Tips

In addition to this expert advice, a couple of other tips to help businesses utilize online media to drive in-store traffic include:

1. Using Geo-targeted Advertising

Hyperlocal online advertising options like Facebook’s Local Awareness Ads and mobile apps like Foursquare and Swarm let local businesses spend their advertising dollars more cost-effectively by tapping into mobile device GPS data to target audiences inside a specific radius (a technology known as geo-fencing).

2. Installing Beacons

Beacons are small, Bluetooth-enabled devices located inside a store, which recognize a customer’s mobile device once the person crosses the store’s threshold, and then send personalized coupons, special offers or loyalty rewards.

Once the purview of the major retail chains, the use of beacons is growing in popularity among smaller local retailers.

Foot Traffic Photo via Shutterstock 1 Comment ▼

Paul Chaney Paul Chaney is a Staff Writer for Small Business Trends. He covers industry news, including interviews with executives and industry leaders about the products, services and trends affecting small businesses, drawing on his 20 years of marketing knowledge. Formerly, he was editor of Web Marketing Today and a contributing editor for Practical Ecommerce.

One Reaction
  1. Amen to good geo-targeting. No point spending money on people who are too far away to come to your store (and you don’t have a comparable online offering).