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Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Mapping Software Helps Stores Find Profitable Locations

A Starbucks across the street from another Starbucks in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. (Rob Williams/Flickr)

A Starbucks across the street from another Starbucks in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. (Rob Williams/Flickr)

A recent story in the Boston Globe caught our eye: A Dunkin Donuts restaurant increased its business by a whopping 50 percent by moving to a location a couple hundred yards away.

To find out how that’s possible, we turn to Simon Thompson, director of commercial solutions for Esri, a mapping software company that supplies location data to stores such as Starbucks and Petco.

Sometimes the result is counterintuitive, such as placing a store next to its competitor.


  • Simon Thompson, director of commercial marketing for Esri. He tweets @SiAction.



From NPR and WBUR Boston, I'm Meghna Chakrabarti. It's HERE AND NOW.

In the business news today, it's the second anniversary of Occupied Wall Street. Activists are marching through Lower Manhattan and congregating at their former encampment. However, only about a hundred people turned out, a far cry from the thousands who took part in the original occupation.

And now, a story we came across here in Boston. It's about a Dunkin' Donuts restaurant that moved its location just a couple hundred yards and increased its business by a whooping 50 percent. We wondered how that's possible. So for some answers, let's turn to Simon Thompson, director of commercial solutions for Esri, a company that supplies location data to stores. And, Simon, is it unusual for a store to boost its sales so much by making such a small move?

SIMON THOMPSON: Well, I think it's actually happening with a lot of different businesses. You know, we work with Starbucks and actually thousands of different retailers, and they've all seen similar gains. You know, being in the right place, as you described, opposite a competition sometimes because of the traffic flows, the demographics, where people are going to work or coming home from the office or going to dine, makes a huge difference in the economic performance of some of those businesses.

CHAKRABARTI: So your company, Esri, does digital mapping and location analytics. So when you're doing those analytics, what kind of data are you gathering?

THOMPSON: We've got thousands of variables. Some, it comes from places like the census, others is information that - Esri models and captures many different sources. So it's things like how - our shopping habits. You know, what do we spend money on? Why do we want to do it? How much are we willing to spend to do those different things? Obviously, things like age and income and house value, but also things like your political persuasion, your likelihood to own a pet or a lease a luxury car.

CHAKRABARTI: Well, Simon, I have to ask you, though, because in my neighborhood, about a couple of blocks from where I live, there are two CVS pharmacies and one Walgreens pharmacy, all within a half-block of each other. We've got three pharmacies, whereas what I really want is a great local coffee shop, which isn't there.

THOMPSON: Yes, send them all to talk to us because...


THOMPSON: ...you know, I think that's one of the interests and aspects of the changing dynamics and some of the financial issues that these types of businesses suffer. They're locked into long-term relationships. So some of those stores we see around the place are zombie stores. They're there without good customers. They're there without high levels of revenue, but they need to be there.

CHAKRABARTI: What about smaller businesses or even independently owned ones? I mean, this is - put them at a disadvantage in terms of not having access to that - the same analytics that you're able to provide?

THOMPSON: Well, that's where the Web's completely changed this marketplace. You know, 10 years ago, you'd have to have the software, you'd have to have an expert. But now, anybody can do it. I can go to the Web, log in for a couple of thousand dollars a year, I can get access to all of that information for the U.S., for Canada and nearly a hundred countries worldwide.

CHAKRABARTI: Are there any variables or factors about a neighborhood or a location that you wish you could measure right now but can't?

THOMPSON: I think one of the biggest ones that everybody is looking at is to get instant data on what people are doing with social media and getting into real depth with social media. The idea of a tweet and a share and a like and something off Instagram. I mean, that's really showing who is there. You know, getting more information about those consumers is really what most people are looking for.

CHAKRABARTI: Well, Simon Thompson is director of commercial solutions for Esri. It's a company that provides digital mapping technology and location analytics. Simon, thank you so much for your time.

THOMPSON: OK, thanks very much.

CHAKRABARTI: Well, still to come, we'll visit Estes Park, Colorado, where they're beginning to assess the damage from those devastating floods. Back in one minute. HERE AND NOW. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Robin Young and Jeremy Hobson host Here & Now, a live two-hour production of NPR and WBUR Boston.

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