Retailers find new ways to boost walk-in business

Every week Techvibes republishes an article from Business in Vancouver.

This article was originally published in issue #1064 – March 16-28, 2010.

The Internet is typically seen as a tool to connect people at the global level.

Many retailers in Vancouver, however, are boosting efforts to grab the online attention of the local rather than the international community. A number of online applications and search tools are sprouting up in Vancouver to help retailers ensure that when a local is looking for a little nightlife or a nearby place to grab a bite, their location stands out online.

For example, Capones Restaurant & Live Jazz Club in Yaletown saw web traffic increase five-fold and traffic to its reservations page triple after it boosted its online presence through Google Local, which is Google’s online local mapping search engine.

Rick Momsen, Capones’ owner, estimated that the restaurant has experienced a 300% increase in customers as a result of its boosted local online presence.

6S Marketing Inc., a Vancouver-based online marketing firm, has helped approximately 80 Vancouver businesses, including Capones, increase their local online business in the last year though Google Local. Roughly 10 of those businesses boosted their online search presence in January, to ensure that their location would be among the first spotted online by Olympic-goers looking for things to do aside from attending sporting events while in Vancouver.

Chris Breikss, 6S’s director, said businesses don’t necessarily need to hire a marketing company to tweak their Google Local account, although 6S and other online marketers know the nuances of search-engine optimization.

If your business has an existing Google account, you simply have to sign up for Google Local and enter relevant information about its location. This can include the address, hours of operation and optimal transit routes for getting there. As well, customers can provide reviews of your business on Google Local. It’s important to ensure that your business classification is also included.

For example, most of Capones’ new customers found the restaurant and jazz venue by searching for “Vancouver jazz.” Capone’s address and information is the first listed in that search, and its location is among the most prominent, marked by a map-pin, on Google’s map of Vancouver.

Breikss noted that many businesses aren’t aware of Google Local. If your competitors aren’t updating their account, it’s more likely that updating your account will boost your online presence in local online maps and searches.

“Basically, the top 20% of businesses are using Google Local,” said Breikss. “So there is still a huge opportunity for businesses to capitalize on this.” Breikss noted that “going local” is also increasingly important as more people adopt smartphones. A strong local online presence can help retailers grab more spontaneous business from smartphone users who search for nearby places to eat, drink or shop while walking the streets.

Vancouver’s Chicwalks Media Inc. has created a mobile application that lists more than 1,000 fashion, food, spa treatment, home decor and jewelry retailers in Vancouver. The Chicwalks app helps consumers plan shopping tours in eight different neighbourhoods in Vancouver and one in Whistler. Retailers can boost their prominence on the Chicwalks directory and map through advertising and gift offers.

Karen Heinrich, Chicwalks’ CEO, got the idea for the Chicwalks app after moving to Paris, France, to become a shopping tour guide. When she first arrived there, she couldn’t find any comprehensive websites or information about shopping in Paris’ many neighbourhoods. As of mid-February, more than 3,000 people have downloaded the Chicwalks app since it became available March 2009.

The app’s popularity skyrocketed during the Olympics. It was downloaded as many as 350 times a day during the first days of the Games. “Everybody wants to walk around with [information] on their mobile now – they don’t want to carry maps,” said Heinrich.

Kristie Thomas, owner of Cranberries Spa on Robson Street, said that being listed with Chicwalks has helped boost business from Vancouverites who live beyond the Robson district. “You know how Vancouver is: people stay in their neighbourhood,” said Thomas. “But you download the app and see that there are all these places just outside your neighbourhood.”