Corporate Eye

13 recommendations to help retail customers find your outlets

How easily can your customers find you on the High Street?

Imagine that you want to visit a branch of Big Retail Company, but don’t know where the nearest store is. Searching on the internet, you land on the corporate website. Can you find the answer to your question?

I’ve looked at 14 FTSE100 companies who have a High Street or out-of-town presence to find out how easily a retail customer could find their nearest outlet using the corporate site.

Financial companies Retailers
Alliance & Leicester
Lloyds TSB
Northern Rock
Royal Bank of Scotland
Carphone Warehouse
Marks & Spencer
Petrol stations Supermarkets

How easy is it to find the information?

All the companies had some kind of store locator functionality, but not always on the corporate site, and there are several different places where this service is to be found:

  • as a direct link on the home page of the corporate site, either
    • as a service on the home page (Morrisons)
    • in a dropdown or expanding list of services on the home page (Barclays, BP, Shell)
    • as a link on the home page of the corporate site (Carphone Warehouse, Lloyds, Marks and Spencer, Next and Sainsbury)
  • as a link on the contact us page of the corporate site (Alliance & Leicester, Northern Rock and HSBC)
  • as a link on the contact us or other pages of the country-specific retail site only, not on the corporate site (RBS and Tesco)
Recommendation 1

If space is available on the home page, then for a company with a retail focus, it makes sense to serve the customers by making it easy for them to find the retail outlets.

Make the locator available from the home page rather than the contact us page – perhaps from the top service bar, like Carphone Warehouse or Marks and Spencer (recommendation 1).

Unless there is plenty of room, though, there probably only needs to be a link to the locator page, not the locator service itself.

How quickly can I get the information?

When the information is held on a country-specific site, as it would need to be for large multi-national countries, it can take up to four clicks from the home page of the corporate site to get to the locator page to enter your postcode. But in most cases, it is only a couple of clicks from the home page, which isn’t likely to be a problem.

Do I need to know the postcode?

In most cases, it is easy to search using the postcode, and, if the customer is searching from home, this is probably the quickest way for them to find their nearest store. It is possible, of course, that they would be searching while away from home, and might not know the postcode.

All the sites enable search by postcode alone, except for BP, which requires the place name, and Northern Rock, which uses a ‘click on map’ approach only.

If you don’t have the postcode, you can still find the information you need, in all cases.

I tested this by putting in the name of the village I live in: half gave me a choice of villages in different counties with the same name; in three other cases I had to identify the nearest big town instead; and in three other cases I was given a map to use to pinpoint my location. In one case, (Tesco) I was taken directly to the correct village. It would be very interesting indeed to know whether this was because this was the only village with a Tesco store within a certain mileage, or whether Tesco had managed to correlate my IP address with their list of stores …

Recommendation 2

Offer several different ways of finding the store the customer needs. This may not be the nearest one to their current location or to their home, if they are trying to plan ahead for a trip away or want to see if a relative would be able to use a gift voucher easily.

I need a specific service …

Most of the financial companies gave me the choice of searching for ATMs or for branches (or both). Of these, Barclays let me choose if I wanted to search for a financial planner instead, but only Royal Bank of Scotland let me choose additional filters (Saturday opening/Currency exchange).

Some of the retail companies gave me the option of additional filters:

  • Carphone Warehouse let me search for up to five store features (such as express repair, installation and delivery) in any combination
  • Marks and Spencer provide 14 store features but I could select only one option, rather than being able to use several filters
  • Tesco offer 4 different store features, but again, only one option at a time
  • Sainsbury let me choose from up to 49 different store features in any combination
  • BP let me search for any combination of up to 14 store features

When the results are presented, most companies also provided a list of what services or facilities are available at that location. Alliance & Leicester, Barclays, Northern Rock, Shell and HSBC apparently do not.

I can see that for most of these companies the services available are likely to be identical in all branches … but perhaps not all.

Recommendation 3 and 4

Consider any differences between the branches, and if the customer would think that there were significant differences in the services offered, mention these on the results (3) – and let the customer search specifically for the services they want (4). Why not let them pinpoint the store that offers them all the services they want, even if that store turns out to be further away?

Can I see a map?

Most of the 14 companies provided a map, but the maps varied in quality.

  • Next, HSBC and Northern Rock didn’t provide any map
  • Alliance and Leicester, and Morrisons both provided a map, but it didn’t work in Firefox, only in Internet Explorer
  • Shell provided a map, but it had no zoom facility, so I couldn’t zoom in and out to get a fix on the location, or clearer directions
  • The map provided by Marks and Spencer didn’t have a marker on to indicate where the store was on the street (all the others that had maps, provided markers).

All the other maps provided were perfectly serviceable.

Recommendations 5-8

Provide a map (5) with a zoom in/out facility (6) and a marker to show where the store is (7).

And do make sure it works in popular browsers (8) …

How far away is it?

Half of the companies told me how far I’d have to drive from my current location to their outlets. Four of the companies made it easy for me to get directions to their outlets from my current location.

Shell provided a route planner, but not directions from where I am to the selected outlet. I could have worked it out, but I’d have had to re-enter both locations to get directions.

Royal Bank of Scotland provides directions to their outlet, and from their outlet to anywhere else I fancied going, or from A to B via one of their branches, for a variety of modes of transport – and would calculate my petrol costs and plan a route avoiding all taxes, tolls, ferries and borders, if I wanted.

Recommendations 9 and 10

Why not provide distances and directions? The full-service route planner option provided by RBS is very nice, though perhaps a little over-the-top, but letting people know the approximate distance they will need to travel (9), and how to find you (10) is surely a valuable service to the customers.

Will it be open?

Most companies provide their standard opening hours with the store locator. Four didn’t: Alliance & Leicester, Next, BP and Shell.

Marks and Spencer offer their opening hours by week – which means that as it gets nearer to Christmas, say, and the opening hours are different, customers will be able to check on the opening hours without needing to phone the stores.

Recommendations 11 and 12

Provide the opening hours (11). If they are going to be different around bank holidays, either add the changes, or warn the customer that the hours will be different, and ask them to phone the store (12). It is very annoying to make a special trip to a shop only to find that it is closed.

What else can you tell me?

There are a few additional pieces of information available on some of these store locators:

  • Lloyds TSB provide the sort codes for their branches, which is potentially very useful (except that you’d have to know the information was there in order to look for it)
  • Marks and Spencer give details of special events happening at their branches, which may attract additional visitors
  • Sainsbury provide the name of the manager of each store. This information is easy to provide, is unlikely to change very often, and lets the customer know who is in charge. So why not provide this information too?
  • All provided addresses and phone numbers – except for Shell, who didn’t have the phone numbers for their services.


If there is information unique to your business, or information that might personalise the service to your customers, provide it (13). It will add interest and value to your pages at very little extra cost – but it must be kept up to date.

So there you have it. 13 recommendations to make it easier for your customers to find your retail outlets, and to let them know what services you provide at each of the outlets and how to contact them.

Of these 14 FTSE100 companies, most do a fairly good job at this – but Royal Bank of Scotland seems to offer the most functionality. If only their locator was available from the corporate site …

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