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Going Local: Building a sense of community in retail

Mark Pingol VP 04/02/2022

The switch to online has been inevitable since the onset of Covid, but we’ve also seen othershifts in behaviour, particularly with the rise of local where support for the community hasbeen an emerging trend.

In the last 20 months, e-commerce has undoubtedly come to the rescue for retail, with many brands rising to the online challenge and growing their operations exponentially.

The challenge is to trigger a purchase decision at any moment in a customer journey by creating omnichannel offers that transcend traditional channel roles

As originally published on Pimento, businesses growing their online operations exponentially has been more straightforward for purely digital and omnichannel retailers, and now over 26% of retail sales are taking place online (ONSOct 2021), down from a peak of 38% in January 2021.

As we head back out of lockdown, the emphasis, particularly for those with a combined bricks and mortar and online presence, will be to continue to bridge the gap between these environments, whilst remaining agile.

The changing journey

The future of retail is interlaced with buzzwords referencing personalisation, whether it’s engaging through sound, smell, bespoke services or delivery. These services also extend to utilising new technology to improve the customer experience.

The challenge is to trigger a purchase decision at any moment in a customer journey by creating omnichannel offers that transcend traditional channel roles, thus optimising touchpoints and minimising pain points.

With an increasing number of online and offline touchpoints capturing the complexities of the different customer types, utilising missions and retailer formats at the moment of purchase is crucial to inform business strategy.

This is complicated by the fact that what consumers say versus what they do, as well as understanding the context in which decisions are made from purchase channels and the way audiences engage with different channels and

communications, is never straightforward.

The key aim is to identify satisfaction and conversion drivers that help the shopper differentiate your offer by creating that personalised experience. Ultimately the more personalised the experience, the greater the loyalty and the harder it is for the competition to replicate your offer. For brands, it’s crucial to identify:

  • What consumers are thinking (what they say)
  • How consumers are behaving (implicit associations)
  • The rationale in which decisions are made

Apart from omnichannel needs, we also expect to see more tribal shopping or interconnectedness to increase purchase confidence and excitement about brands.

Building a sense of community

However, a key challenge for retailers remains, how can they build a community of customers that engage with their brand beyond the transaction? During the pandemic, we’ve seen the strength of how local communities have supported business and this has grown exponentially. But how do larger retailers drive community interconnectedness, both digitally and in-store?

The concept of building community spaces is certainly not new. Cafés and restaurants or just Wi-Fispaces have been used to help retailers offer an improved customer experience for years.

Lululemon has taken this concept to the next level in the way they utilise space to engage with their audiences. From their launch, rather than use celebrities to endorse their brand, they have made a point of collaborating with local yoga teachers and fitness instructors, utilising store environments for classes and other events.

Other great examples of establishing community in-store and embedding it within the shopping processor “peer-to-peer commerce” include:

  • UNIQLO’s StyleHints application, launched in 2019, helps shoppers find new ways to style favourite pieces already in their closet, by shopping for items that fall into your feed. It’s a simple, crowd-sourced, space-saving and highly engaging solution to bring real people’s styles into the store and monetise it by making the looks shippable.
  • Swarovski are leveraging fan content through their Crystal Studio, launched in the UK in 2020. The concept aims to elevate the in-store experience through an interactive and socially focussed environment, to bring the Instagram looks made by fans into the store to inspire shoppers.

Brands are adopting a range of other tactics to bring authenticity to their brand and engage with customers through shared values and interests:

  • Sponsorship is a way to associate a brands commitment to a cause to help engender positive associations, boost credibility and generate goodwill; just look at the way Tesco has achieved this with Cancer Research UK since 2002.
  • Pop-ups (prior to lockdown) have also been used successfully to create short term physical environments, particularly for smaller online start-ups dipping their toes into the physical retail environment, but they also allow more established brands to engage with a key segment of their customer base.

And it’s not just a physical set-up that can be used to generate a sense of community. Social commerce is being used to great effect through media platforms such as Instagram, Facebook and Pinterest, to help brands get discovered, maximise engagement and drive sales. They create a complete social shopping experience, enabling users to seek advice, read reviews and consult with friends to form opinions in an interactive and frictionless way. Crucially this provides instant feedback on your brand, and if you’re doing things right, it helps to create brand advocates, who not only buy your brand, products or services but importantly help spread the word.

Whatever the approach, the starting point is always with the brand itself. You need to ensure that every touchpoint reflects your personality and culture, especially your staff, who are integral to driving your culture.

Creating that sense of community has significant benefits for brands:

  • Creating a sense of belonging
  • Driving brand engagement
  • Generating advocates to spread brand love
  • Encouraging repeat business and loyalty
  • Ultimately increasing spend and revenues

Since lockdown, we’ve identified three important themes, encompassed in our “W.I.N.” framework, to help businesses objectively measure and assess the viability of potential initiatives they may be considering. Our key themes are:

  • Wired: many of us are now entrenched in shopping online and this looks to continue. The catch for omnichannel is to ensure personalisation is maximised. How do you create an engaging online experience that goes beyond just transactional?
  • Interconnectedness: most of us are in constant contact with our social networks digitally in lieu of face-to-face (something we may have been missing and will now want more of). During lockdown, building meaningful relationships has often taken the form of more local, community shopping but can this last? The rise of peer-to-peer and generating a sense of community needs to be maintained. How do your current retail strategies encompass the shopping channels and leverage the longing for community and togetherness?
  • New Norms: with the world constantly changing, new social contracts and behaviours are manifesting themselves and will become permanent (think face masks but also upcoming recession). There is a need to be constantly observing and being cognisant about changing societal norms and behaviours and being agile enough to modify retail strategies to accommodate these changes. Do you have a constant view of changing norms and is your business agile enough to accommodate these changes?

To find out more about how to W.I.N at retail and how we are helping retailers successfully plan future strategy, please get in touch.

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