Digital ads and location-based marketing may offer a shot of positive energy for struggling brick-and-mortar businesses.

Janine Pollack, director of integrated marketing at MNI Targeted Media

Retail has taken a profound hit in recent years, with more than 9,000 stores shuttering. The pandemic hasn’t helped matters: 90% of consumers surveyed still prefer home delivery in-store visits and only 28% plan to increase in-store shopping between August 2020 and February 2021. More than ever before, we need to implement tangible solutions that can help promote sales, loyalty and drive commerce for the longer term. With an already dismal outlook, retailers need to bring shoppers back into their stores—now. 

While we’ve known for years that omnichannel is imperative for retail, digital, and specifically location-based marketing, may offer a shot of positive energy for struggling brick-and- mortar businesses. A recent study revealed that location-based mobile ads delivered higher conversions, not just online but also in-store. These targeted ads are a powerful tool that more retailers could be leaning on to drive sales—but many don’t know where to start.

The good news is that location-based ads are a lot easier to use (and a lot more flexible) than marketers may think. Here are a few tactics that retailers can test to drive in-store traffic quickly.

Tactic 1: Geofencing

Geofencing is not as complicated as it sounds, and it’s so effective that it’s well worth investigating. With this tactic, retailers can build a virtual wall around the neighborhoods they’d like to target and only show ads to consumers within that selected region. A geofence might include anyone within a 10-mile radius of a particular store location or, in an urban area, a 10-block radius. That means ads only shoppers close enough to drive or walk to your store conveniently will see the ad.


Geofencing makes it easy for shoppers to jump on timely offers. If your geofence is only five square miles, for example, you can invite shoppers in for limited-time offers: “Next three hours only—50% off all sweaters! Offer only valid in-store!” When shoppers within the target area are less than 15 minutes away, this kind of ad can potentially drive a lot of in-store traffic. When meshed with loyalty data, also useful to drive foot traffic for “members only” events and pre-sales. 

Tactic 2: Local search

With “near me” searches continually on the rise, there’s never been a better time to remind customers that your retail location is conveniently located in their neighborhood. Whether your business is a clothing store, a sporting goods store, a pizza place, or a barbershop, someone nearby is searching for a business like yours. So, when that query for “futon store near me” is sent, you’ll want to be sure your store is in the first three search results.

Not only should your SEO team be optimizing your meta tags and descriptions to ensure your business rises to the top of local searches, but you should also consider investing in paid search. The ability to own the message that appears on the top of the page is well worth it, especially if you can include something about “easy curbside pickup” or “two convenient area locations.”

Tactic 3: Retailers should localize digital ads 

Google, Facebook, and most self-serve advertising platforms offer the opportunity to target within a local area. Take advantage! These platforms already make advertising easy and affordable, and by localizing ads, retail marketers can target shoppers across a wide range of sites and devices. This is where those “shop online, pick up in-store” offers can really deliver a competitive edge. 


Many of these platforms allow for retargeting (or remarketing) as well. If shoppers have visited your ecommerce site, you can entice them to visit the store by showing ads that feature the items they were considering on your site. Retargeting local shoppers give retailers an edge over online-only options, as you can remind them that they can stop by and see the item “in real life” or pick it up today for free, instead of paying shipping fees and waiting for days. Offering in-store only specials, like a gift with purchase or coupons to use toward a subsequent purchase, can also help drive people into physical stores.

COVID-19 has accelerated retail’s digital transformation, taking us to a place we were already headed. Customers may not browse the racks and shelves as they did before the pandemic, but it doesn’t mean they won’t come back to stores at all.

Research shows 71% of shoppers feel comfortable shopping in-stores now that many stay-at-home orders have lifted. Those shoppers have changed due to COVID-19. All retailers now must give potential shoppers a reason to visit that is so compelling. It overcomes the inertia of the behaviors they adopted during the shutdown. It’s a tremendous challenge but presenting customers with the right offer—highlighting ease and convenience with the right tone—is a solid first step. 

MNI Targeted Media is an advertising agency owned by media company Meredith Corp.