Over the last two years I have been researching the digital engagement of retailers who have been included in the Independent Achievers Academy Top 100. This included their Facebook and Twitter use, as well as how easy it is to find them on Google. What I found in the first year was that only a minority of retailers were seeing the value of using Google Maps and getting their store information added to the location.

There were some stores that were not visible at all on my first journey across Google Maps and Street View. Last year’s virtual trip around the Top 100 showed a much better level of store visibility with almost all the stores in their correct location.

But this is not enough. This year my journey has been enlarged to include all the businesses that have taken part in the IAA and looking at this third set of store data I am seeing that there is a cost for not engaging with the internet. Where retailers are not using the virtual space that the store occupies, someone else will.

On Google Maps, Facebook and Twitter I found evidence of the space that should be using stores being usurped by other people and businesses. On Google Maps I noticed one store that doesn’t have a website – but the website that bears the name of their store is being used by a French fashion company. The solution that several retailers have used is to use their store Facebook page as their website.

Also on Google Maps, if you don’t add your own store photographs like Julian Taylor-Green has done, your store may be represented by images that don’t do justice to your business. The solution is to take a series of photographs that positively promote your business that add them to your stores Google Maps location.

My research of how Facebook is being used shows that there are penalties for not having a page for your business. I found that where stores have not engaged with Facebook, they leave a space for unofficial pages to fill the void.

I came across one store where someone had photographed a poorly parked vehicle belonging to the business and created a post on the Facebook wall of the store, giving them a ‘worst parking of the month award’. Another unofficial page was using an unfilled store space to advertise handmade jewellery. The solution is to set up a Facebook page for your store to give your customers to opportunity to find you, rather than find someone else’s version of you. To start it only needs to be the store details and some photos of your store and maybe the store team.

What I found on Twitter, which has a lower number of stores active, is that there are other users that want to engage with your store, including @betterRetailing and @IAAcademy. When you don’t have an account your business can’t be included in any conversation so you won’t be seen. The solution is to set up an account for your store and Tweet some images that reveal who you are and what you do.

My research this year has shown that independent retailers can no longer ignore the internet. You don’t have to be active every day, but if you aren’t there and can’t be seen, you can be sure that someone else will eventually usurp your space and potentially damage your business.

If you aren’t looking, you will know nothing about it.

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