This Isn’t Your Grandfather’s Store Locator

By A.J. Clark, Thermopylae

First came typewriters, then we moved to word processors; from there, IBM’s Lotus emerged and changed the game by expanding capabilities into a suite of business tools that organizations could utilize to grab a competitive advantage. Microsoft crushed IBM’s domination with Office, bringing with it a revolutionary, interoperable approach to creating all sorts of business documents and presentations: documents, spreadsheets, presentations, workflows, etc. Now, we are in the midst of the cloud revolution, and another new era in productivity will once again push forward what we consider a standard toolbox.

What is the next leap in capabilities, especially for chain stores? Maps. Information visualization over a map is not necessarily a “new” document type, but the rise of democratized geo data and capabilities puts this in the hands of the majority — no longer just the GIS analysts. This is comparable to PowerPoint unlocking the ability for everyday users to build and display ideas without having to wait for a graphic designer to create presentation slides. Data with associated locations can be overlaid on a digital map, layered with other data sets, and manipulated to gain unique insights.

Chain stores can take unique advantage of this growing capability to make staffing, marketing, and other types of decisions. Perhaps the most powerful competitive advantage for chains is the insight gained to assist in franchise expansion, promotion, and sales efforts by visually displaying critical information regarding location, customer demographics, and business strategy.

Power in Location

Beginning with a simple plot of data — your store locations and competitors’ store locations — we already have a strong canvas from which to work and perform quick analytics like proximity to competition and regions of high or low coverage. Adding additional, more complex data sets such as store reach, local demographics, and traffic volume serves to now reveal many more intricate business intelligence scenarios. With 3D mapping capabilities, even more options become available. Imagine being able to visualize highway access to a store or even conduct line-of-sight analysis for optimal placement of signage.

The analytics that can be performed from visualized data start to become limitless and demographic layers that contain information on local populations are the key to unlocking the value of these analytics for chain stores. Data like household income, average spending, and household occupants can be set against automated analytic processes that are programmed to identify major areas of opportunity based on specific criteria. Identifying pockets of potential customers that meet your store’s targets can prove invaluable to planning store expansion, promotions, or competitive analysis.

For example, if your store targets duel occupant homes with a household income of $45k-70k that buy prepackaged food products more than three-times per month, you can automate an analytic to highlight these households/neighborhoods on a map, compare those locations to that of your current stores, and calculate the average distance from customer prospect to store.

Data Translated to Strategy

It’s not enough to just have data on a map or even the analytics that come with it if it isn’t informing business strategy. There are many areas where these answers can guide strategic decisions and shape campaigns. Promotions can be visualized by their varying degrees of success and failure; this can help predict success in new locations and guide future planning.

The demographic information discussed earlier shows whether or not a store would reach your target audience and help clarify the expected success of a new site. Site reach and radius will help location planners understand if market share is being cannibalized by self-competition.

The end result is a combination of more efficient and successful promotions, more accurate expansion decision-making, increased sales, higher customer retention, and greater probability of success. In other words: higher volume, reduced risk, and greater profit potential.

Critical decision-making requires more than just a single data point. When you are able to break down the silos that contain all that valuable business data and put it in a place where it can be quickly and easily understood, you start creating an environment where all the information necessary to make the right decision is available. Being able to visualize that information offers strategic decision-makers an easy-to-understand view of who, when, where, and how.

When integrated and visualized, business intelligence mapping creates ROI on information that is greater than the sum of its parts. Individual data points are limitations in the decision-making process necessary to create competitive advantages, but when combined and presented in a geospatial context, businesses have a powerful roadmap to strengthening existing stores and making the best possible decisions for expansion

A.J. Clark is president of Thermopylae, a leader in geospatial mapping technology, allowing organizations to harness, visualize and make sense big data they already have, using Google maps as a platform, and was named Google Enterprise Global Partner of the Year 2013 for Google Maps. He can be reached at

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