It's worth taking the time to establish what's required when it comes to looking for store locator software and what is merely nice to have. While it's true to say that everyone's requirements will be slightly different, we consider the following to be the key factors to look for when evaluating a store locator service and we'll be scoring each service based on their ability to meet or exceed these requirements.
Google Maps is the industry standard when it comes to mapping services because it's the most popular mapping service globally and is familiar to almost all of your potential customers. It comes with a free $200 monthly quota which is fine for most small to medium size businesses but it gets expensive, fast if you expect your store locator to be used heavily. Expect to get around 7-800 page loads a day for your store locator for free, after which you'll have to pay Google.
For this reason, we recommend looking for a store locator service which supports alternative mapping services such as Mapbox and Open Street Map. Ideally we are also looking for services which provide an API key wrapped into their pricing structure so you are not liable for any unexpected charges from mapping service providers if you have an unexpectedly busy period.
This requirement speaks for itself - can you add multiple languages to the store locator and does offer full Unicode (i18n) support so you can write international characters such as accents and supports non-English language variants such as Chinese or Thai.
Location and product filtering is a crucial requirement for many businesses that need to be able to give their customers the ability to filter search results. For example, you may want them to be able to search by product category (Cars vs Motorbikes) or by the type of facility (School vs Hospital). We score locators more highly where the locator and map search results are updated instantly, where there is multi-level filtering and where the Filters can be preset. An example of where preset filters are useful is allowing you to set up separate pages on your website to show locations which stock a specific product.
Your store locator is a critical piece of your customer lead generation infrastructure. You need to know which locations customers are commonly searching for, the areas where they have not been able to find a store nearby and ideally you need to be able to track click events within your locator so you can monitor outbound links and visitor activity. The ability to export this data to file (CSV or Excel) and integration with a mapping service so you can visualize the results are nice to haves.
Comma Seperated Values (CSV) and Excel file import capability are a minimum requirement here. Nice to haves include Google Sheets integration so you can pull data automatically (ideally on a scheduled basis) from a Google Sheet. This gives your store locator integration some additional superpowers as Google Sheets can be permissioned so others can be delegated access to manage your location data and the Sheet can draw data from multiple other Sheets and online sources.
On top of this, businesses often value being able to pull in data sources directly from a URL or FTP share. JSON is a common publishing format as is XML and CSV is often an export format from enterprise class systems such as SAP.
The ability to customize both the layout and appearance of the locator is crucial. Firstly, you'll want the ability to match the basic appearance such as font face and sizes, the locator text and interface colors and also the map color scheme. Secondly you'll probably want to be able to choose from a variety of different layouts such as map only or with a store list alongside the map.
We like to see multiple support channels with chat, phone (multiple countries offered) and email the key requirements here. Instant support via either chat (preferred) or phone is a major positive in this area.
Do they offer an API to their customers, and is it a modern REST based API or does it use a legacy data format such as XML?
How are their offerings priced and how are the various tiers of service that they offer segregated into plans?