Store Locator Software Best Practices
Store Locators have come a long way in the 15+ years that we’ve been doing them for our clients. Many of the standard methods have changed as technology has improved and we learn how people interact with what we’ve done in the past.
We’re always looking for ways to improve our system to make it the easiest to use. Our ultimate goal is “your locations — in one click” so let’s look at how we do that.
A user should not have to “search” for your store locator.
Your locations are often the only reason people will ever visit your website. Making them hard to find once they get there is irritating. Your “store locator” links should be prominent in the header (top right corner is best) and the footer of your website, and again on any page about a specific product as something like “where to buy”. Don’t bury your locator under the “about us” page or your “contacts” page.
NOTE: It’s is no longer necessary to put a “store finder search box” on your home page, but you may want to use a graphic of a map to draw people’s focus.
A user should not have to enter anything to see results.
Geo-targeting (the practice of serving content that is based on the location of the user automatically) is getting better and better. Over 90% of users can be given accurate results near them (without having to ask them to enter anything) based on their internet connection. For the other 10%, simply moving the map around slightly or scrolling might be even easier than entering their actual Zip code. When it comes to mobile, most users have GPS now, so you should use it.
A user should not have to specify a distance or number of results to display.
You meet everyone’s needs by showing the closest locations to the user; whether they are 5 miles away or 100. Why give a user more confusing choices to make when it doesn’t serve any useful purpose. If they want more than the closest location to them they shouldn’t have to search again and again to find what they are looking for.
Smart radius algorithms focus on the closest locations to the user and allow simple zooming out or scrolling to show more locations in the results than any user should possibly need to see, but with the speed of these systems today there is usually no reason to put a limit of fewer than 100 results.
A user should not have to know what towns you are in to find results.
Your locator’s search form should allow for “City, State” or Zip/Post Code entry from one simple search form and should always search for any locations near that point. Making users enter a city where you are located, or select from a long drop-down list of locations is not easy for someone unless they happen to be in the city you are in, which is almost never the case (unless you are in every town, which would make your list a little too long now, wouldn’t it?).
A user should not have to select any options to see results.
Granted, you may need to offer filtering options on your locator so that users can find exactly what product they are looking for, but you shouldn’t force everyone to have to select these options (or even look at them) to see your locations. Start by showing all locations, and then let the user add filters if needed.
A user should never see a “NO RESULTS” error of any kind.
If you’ve done everything else right, you shouldn’t have to worry about this. The one case we sometimes see is when someone deliberately enters gibberish into the search box with the intent to “test” the system. (Actually, “gibberish” is geocoded by Google to 56.1600704,13.7769982 which is somewhere near Hässleholm, Sweden. What we really mean is when someone enters something like “dhcydwnn3”. In that case, a simple message like “No locations found searching for dhcydwnn3 … Please try using “city, state” OR “zip/postal code” is fine.
Don’t over complicate.
As we said before, there have been many advancements in the last 10 years. Don’t be afraid of simplicity. Today’s store locators don’t look or work the way they did 15 years ago. It really can be this simple.