Does Location Matter for eCommerce?

You run an online store, which means that location doesn’t matter, right?

Not necessarily. Even though we spend a lot of time in the digital world these days, the physical world still exists, and still has an important influence on us.

Where we live, our friends, the local weather, local brands—these factors still heavily influence what we prefer and buy, including online.

And with the rise of mobile—and wearable—devices, location is playing an even more important role in our online experience.

In this post we ask the question: does location matter for eCommerce?

Location and Understanding Your Customers

Wharton Professor David Bell has studied the relationship between location and eCommerce for menswear online retailer Bonobos.

Bell found that it is critical for eCommerce companies to understand what the offline environment looks like, and that existing customers are the most powerful source of referrals for new customers.

Young fashionable man carrying bag

Using data from the John F. Kennedy School of Government, Social Capital Community Benchmark Survey and company data from Bonobos, Bell studied the offline data associated with Bonobos customers.

One interesting finding from the study was that the number of bars and liquor stores per capita was a good proxy for Bonobos’ target market of males aged between 25 and 45 who are somewhat fashion forward.

In the video below, Bell explains that location used to matter in the context of the location of the store. But with eCommerce, it is the location of the customer, rather than the store, that really matters.

What Mobile Means for Location and eCommerce

The rise of mobile computing means that location is becoming even more important.

As explained by Avi Goldfarb of the University of Toronto:

Mobile computing strengthens the links between online and offline life. Before, online activity happened in a specific place, sitting at a desk. Now smartphones mean that wherever consumers happen to be, they can gather information online, compare prices, or buy something.

Exactly how much impact mobile and location has on your business depends. If you are an omnichannel retailer (offering customers a shopping experience that bridges the online and offline worlds), mobile is really important.

But even if you are not currently offering omnichannel experiences, the rise of mobile may compel you to do so in the future. This may take the form of pop-up stores and stalls, a flagship store, or selling wholesale through existing retail locations.

Some of the entrepreneurs we have spoken to in our Interviews with Entrepreneurs series (such as Smiles for the People and White Gum Wool) have found that a combination of online and offline options works for their businesses.

In the context of WooCommerce, you might want to think about options like AppPresser, which with their WooCommerce Bundle can help you build an app to accompany your retail store. AppPresser’s geolocation features to allow customers that are accessing your app to locate their nearest store (or pickup location).

You could also potentially use geolocation features to encourage location-aware social networking and sharing between your customers.

Young woman taking photo of a young man with an iPhone

Will It Eventually All Be “Commerce”?

Chris Fletcher, a research director at Gartner, was quoted in MIT Technology Review late last year as saying that:

Getting into data, analytics, or mobile isn’t even a decision anymore, so we should stop calling it e-commerce and call it just commerce, or maybe pervasive commerce…

While we wouldn’t go that far, it does appear that many eCommerce sellers find that combining some real-life commerce with eCommerce is a winning strategy.

This supports another couple of David Bell’s findings: that social capital makes the transfer of information easier; and that the level of energy a customer feels with your business increases after an IRL interaction.

So while it may not immediately be obvious, location matters for eCommerce from multiple perspectives: including gathering potential customer data; building and leveraging social capital; and responding to the rise of mobile computing experiences.

WooCommerce and Location

For users of WooCommerce, it seems to be the early days for location-related extensions. If you are a developer looking for extension ideas, location features might be worth considering.

I did manage to find three WooCommerce extensions that harness location data:

  1. Location Filter Options within the Catalog Visibility Options extension from Lucas Stark, which allows you to filter your products by customer country.
  2. Local Pickup Plus from SkyVerge, which provides enhanced local pickup features so that your customers can choose from more than one pick up location.
  3. AppPresser and its geolocation features, which can potentially be used for a “find your nearest store” feature, as well as other things.

While these three are a good start, I suspect we’ll be seeing many more location extensions for WooCommerce in the future.

If you know of any other WooCommerce Extensions utilising location data, I’d love to hear about it in the comments section.


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