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Oct 7, 2009 | 5 minute read

8 Applications of IP Geolocation

written by P Sheldon

More and more online retailers are leveraging IP geolocation to personalize the store experience based on where the shopper is browsing from. Vendors including Quova and Digital Element provide a wealth of location data including country, state, city, postal code, connection speed, time zone, telephone area codes, TV regions and much more. In this blog post we’ll explore some of the ways retailers are leveraging geolocation data to optimize the shopping experience.

Global navigation

Many multinational retailers and manufacturers like often place a nasty country selector landing page in front of their store. First of all, this upsets the search spiders from gaining entry into your site and secondly, creates an unnecessary barrier to entry for the customer. Using geolocation data you can direct the customer to the correct store based on country they are browsing from. For multi lingual sites countries like Canada and Switzerland, you can automatically set the language of the store based on their browser language.

If you do this, remember to always allow the shopper to change their country and language manually in the header or footer of your site.

Even if you don’t automatically redirect shoppers to the right geographic store, you can still prompt them to the right store. Visitors to get presented with a redirection link when they visit from regions where Amazon have a store presence like Canada and the UK.

Offer & product localization

Travel retailers can use geolocation to present geographically relevant offers. For example, Continental Airlines present promotional offers that target shoppers based on their closest airport, hence visitors browsing from New York will see special offers from Newark airport.

Outdoor retailers might promote winter sports products to shoppers in Northeast US whilst promoting summer sports products to those lucky enough to be shopping from Florida and Southwest.

Experience optimization

Geolocation service providers can also provide data on the shopper’s internet connection. This allows you to know if the shopper is browsing via dial up, cable, DSL, T1 etc and also if the user is connecting via a mobile gateway (3G). Accordingly you can optimize both the site experience and content to ensure that your store is optimized based on connection type. Users connecting via a mobile gateway can be redirected to your mobile optimized store, whilst users on slower connections can be presented with low resolution graphics instead of rotating flash banners.

Multi Channel

Forrester research projects that by 2012 approximately one third of all retail sales will be influenced by the Web. Geolocation data can improve the online experience for those online shoppers who are researching an offline purchase. For years multichannel retailers like Sears have provided store finders, in store inventory lookup tools and pick up in store capabilities. All of these tools require the shopper to enter their zip code or city and select the store or stores closest to them.

With geolocation this step is simply unnecessary. You already know down to zip code level where the shopper is browsing from, so you can automatically select the closest store or store for pick up in store, in store availability and store locators.

This simplifies the user experience for the customer and removes the need for zip / city field inputs and location finder pop-ups. In the minority of cases the IP address the shopper is shopping from will differ in location to pick up location they are interested in. You can handle these cases with a simple ‘check another store’ hyperlink and remembering the customers preferred store in their cookie for their next visit.

Checkout optimization

During the checkout process new customers are forced to enter a wealth of personal data including shipping and billing addresses. Geolocation data can be used to pre-populate fields like country, state/province and city, reducing the number of fields the customer has to manually complete. A simple ‘not shipping to xxxxxxx’ link clears the pre-populated fields when the shopper is shipping to a different city from where they are browsing from.

Shipping & tax estimators can also benefit from geolocation data, allowing you to automatically present estimated shipping and taxes without the need to enter a zip code. Again the shopper should be able to change the zip code if they are shipping to a different city from where they are browsing.


During order processing you can use geolocation data to compare the location of the shopper’s IP address to their provided credit card billing address and shipping address. If there is a mismatch between the two (shopper is in Russia but using a UK credit card address) then you can flag the order for manual review. This reduces your risk to fraud and reduces costly credit card charge backs.

Enforcing digital content and territory rights

Contractual and publishing rights often mean that digital and media content can only be distributed within certain geographic boundaries. Popular subscription music sites like Pandora and Spotify restrict access to their sites to users from the countries they are able to distribute in.

The BBC prevents access to their online iPlayer to viewers outside the UK in order to protect the commercial rights of their pay per view channels in the US, Canada, Japan etc.

Enforcing distribution rights

Many manufacturers enforce shipping restrictions between markets to protect distribution rights. For example have a warning message in their checkout that advises customers that orders for certain brands will be canceled if they are shipped outside the US.

Using geolocation retailers have two alternative tools at their disposal to deal with cross boarder shipping restrictions.

a) They can hide these products from the shopper, i.e. a Canadian shopper will not see products that cannot be shipped to Canada
b) They can display shipping restriction information on the product results and product pages for Canadian customers, thus setting availability expectations prior to entering the checkout process.

This post was written by Elastic Path product manager Peter Sheldon.