By Jen Neumann | Guest Column

In an increasingly online world, does location still matter?

Let’s revisit one of the oldest principles of marketing: “place” or location.

Location does still matter, with a twist. If your business is a location your clients come to from a convenience perspective, or your traffic numbers depend on walk-ins and seeing your location on a regular basis to generate top-of-mind awareness, it most certainly matters, although less so than before the advent of google maps, websites and online reviews. A location that is convenient and has adequate parking and accessibility is still an important factor for businesses that serve their customers face to face. But it isn’t the only location you need to be concerned with.

Online location is now as big of a factor as physical location. And in your e-presence, you can overcome a few barriers that a less-than-ideal physical location may cause. By being easy to find online, by advertising when your potential customers are searching for your services, and by giving your potential clientele a feeling for your physical location before they come to your store or office, as well as your approach to customer service, you are raising your chances of doing business with them.

Today’s customers aren’t “walk-ins,” they’re “stalk-ins.”

They’ve likely searched for you online to get your address, clicked on a photo, read a review or two, researched your options as well as your competitors, and scrolled through your social media – all before they call, come in, email, ping you on Twitter or submit a form. They may know whether their friends have been there, and what their experience was. They may have created elaborate spreadsheets of all their options, prices and availability. (Or maybe that’s just me.)

Cleaning up, monitoring and bolstering your online locations is just as important as ensuring that your storefront is appealing and that your location is visible from the street. Failure to do so will cause you to lose the opportunity to serve more customers.

Today’s customers may want to “speak” with you before they take the time to visit in person, or potentially engage services or buy online. At a minimum, your website must offer a way to click to call and to contact you via a form or email, which must be answered immediately to meet today’s consumer’s standards.

Additional tools such as online chat and Facebook messaging are simple to implement, although they require attention and responsiveness. It is not realistic to expect people to pick up the phone in their early research stage. Many consumers actively seek an option that doesn’t require a phone call or in-person visit until they are ready to make a decision. They may want to inquire during off hours or on their break at work.

(Note: it is perfectly acceptable to have chat offline or respond to emails the next morning and many businesses offer varying degrees of automated responses or answers to simple questions.)

Businesses that understand the importance of their online location/responsiveness and can bring their same in-person customer experience philosophy – assuming it’s a good one – to the consumer wherever they make contact will be far more successful than those that do not. “We want to force our customers to call us or come in” is a mentality that will lose the opportunity to someone who is willing and waiting for that chat or form submission.

Jen Neumann is owner and CEO of de Novo Marketing in Cedar Rapids.