What makes a good online store finder?

For this month’s blog I’ve been looking at online store finders. It’s mainly a visual blog, using screenshots from desktop and mobile browsing sessions to demonstrate implementations that I think work well plus looking at ways well known sites can improve. Below I assess store finders using some simple (though not exhaustive) criteria.

Mobile friendly

A growing percentage of store location sessions come from mobile devices. It’s logical – people on the move are looking for local information. Mobile versions need to be concise and navigation stripped back to the essentials, making use of mobile features like GPS location to help customers find the nearest store with minimal effort.

John Lewis has a neat UI for its mobile site. There is a permanent ‘Shops’ icon in the top menu, with a neat expansion on touch to reveal a simple store finder. It provides 3 ways to find your store:

  1. GPS to locate the nearest store based on current location.
  2. List of all shops.
  3. Search bar for postcode/town specific searches.

The store pages themselves have been streamlined for mobile with the minimum essential information visible on load: store name, address & phone number. More detailed information is available on scroll including opening times. The buttons are also maximised to screen width to make them easy to press on a touch screen.

Interestingly ‘View on map’ opens Google maps in a new window. I’d have expected the map to be hosted on their mobile site (as competitors like House of Fraser do). Perhaps this is actually a better UX for customers as the Google maps option enables live directions. However, it’s likely to reduce the amount of continued browsing from as customers have left the site.

John Lewis mobile

Carpetright does something odd – it includes a data field for house number, even though it’s not compulsory. It may seem trivial but on mobile space is everything and this unnecessarily clutters the screen. It would be a simple change to make. However, I’m led to believe there is a CRM data matching reason for this – does the business benefit outweigh the UI issue?

Carpet Right store finder

Customisable

As shoppers we have unique demands. A good store finder provides refinement tools that let customers find exactly what they want, in terms of store location, store information and store services.

Starbucks is a great example. Not only is the page design clear and easy to follow but you can drill down into specific store criteria such as those with Wifi or 24 hour service. It’s a really simple UI and makes finding your local store quick and easy. One observation is that the store list/map doesn’t populate if you select store criteria without also submitting a location search. This seems an obvious UI bug.

Starbucks store finder

This functionality is carried through to mobile where the menu is streamlined using icons and the design is kept clean and fresh.

Starbucks mobile

Easy and logical navigation

You should be able to find the information you want quickly and without struggle. This means clear signposting, intelligent use of icons and a UI pattern that understands how humans scan webpages.

Majestic used analytics data and user tests to understand what its customers really wanted from the store finder. It discovered that browsing using a map was more popular than postcode search, so ensured both were easily accessible.

Majestic Wine Warehouse store finder

Hotel Chocolat uses helpful features to aid navigation. You can change the radius of search to narrow/expand the geo-fence to pinpoint stores and on each store page, there is a button that lets you set that store as your preferred location.  This is ideal for mobile browsing as it reduces customer effort by bypassing store search to surface the preferred store by default (something which apps have been used to do for a while).

Hotel Chocolat

At the other end of the scale, TM Lewin’s store locator landing page is hugely disappointing. They slap up a customer survey pop-up, which is only going to disrupt the customer journey. Furthermore, you have to work hard to read the text and decipher the tab menu before you know what to do next. It’s an overly complicated UI design that is in major need of simplification e.g. why are you showing a message for mobile users on a desktop site?

TM Lewin

Relevant information

Once the basics are in place, marketers have the opportunity to promote relevant content to store page visitors. This includes in-store events, product exclusives and promotions.

Next does a reasonable job featuring video content on the main store locator page. It also has easy to use buttons for each store for “More info”, as well as the ability to get directions by foot and car (real bonus this as most mapping solutions default always to car view and it’s hard to find the switch to foot).

Next Store Finder

However, they’ve not fully thought through the UX because when you click on “More info” the overlay is displayed on the map view above, which on most screen resolutions is actually outside the current visible frame.

Tips on selecting the best tool

There is a list of core capabilities that I recommend comparing store finders services against:

1.      Core UX

How easy is it for the customer to use? If the customer doesn’t get it, the battle is over.

2.      Customisation

This falls into 2 parts: (i) can you brand the tool so it’s consistent with your website look & feel (ii) can you tailor the content and functionality to be aligned with your unique business needs e.g. customise store results based on attribute selection.

3.      Reach

What countries does the tool cover and to what accuracy? Is it local market centric or does it have genuine coverage of overseas?

 4.      Integration

How easy is it to get on your website and what are the options? You need to find a tool that works within your existing platform and is easy to maintain/support. Think through the demands on your IT team vs. a solution that’s fully supported by the provider.

 5.      Cost model

Do you pay a fixed license fee or is it cost per usage? The latter can be expensive as you scale the website, the former punitive for small volumes if it’s not tiered. Shop around and compare the cost models.

Comments and questions

So which websites do you think do store finders well and why? What do you think are the key criteria that determine whether or not a store finder is easy to use?

I’d welcome thoughts and examples.

Thanks, James.

Further information on Postcode Anywhere’s store finder

Postcode Anywhere provides an online store finder solution, which is currently used by leading retailers including:

  • H Samuel
  • Hotel Chocolat
  • The Fragrance Shop
  • French Connection
  • Footasylum
  • Pizza Hut

Drop us a line and say hello if you would like a demo.


  • Emma Bonar

    Very useful post, thanks James.
    Warehouse has a good store locator with a ‘find me’ option that displays nearest stores based on device location, although I think it would benefit from some richer content on the store pages themselves. Works well on a mobile though.

  • Hi Emma,
    Thanks for your comments and the example of Warehouse – i’d not looked at that example before.
    I find it interesting how multi-channel retailers are integrating store stock in to the store finder journey, not just on store finder pages but also on product pages.
    Another step to making life easier for people.
    Thanks
    james