Don’t Just Digitize Your Organization: Transform It

What Retailers Can Do to Build
Communities—and What They
Should Avoid

Where do customers go to share their experiences? If they loved a brand, how will they tell their friends about it? What channels can shoppers use to recommend a product to others?

If retailers have a community in place, consumers will be able to do all these activities—and more. The secret to building a loyal base starts with an exploration of possibilities. It accommodates consumer preferences and looks ahead to up-and-coming technology tools.

Following is a list of what to do (and what to avoid) that retailers can use to create a lasting, impactful community.

Do Share Genuinely

In the U.S., 84% of millennials report they are more loyal to a brand if it is transparent. A fitness retailer that makes lofty promises to help customers lose weight could be met with skepticism. The same is true for coverage of live events. If an interview is marketed as a “spontaneous” encounter, viewers will notice if the interviewee seems overly prepared.

Makeup retailer Charlotte Tilbury posts and streams video regularly on its YouTube channel. Fans can watch transformations, learn how to create popular evening looks, and receive tips on routine skincare. The brand addresses imperfections on models and beauty experts. The audience can comment on the videos to provide feedback and interact with other viewers.

Don’t Segregate Channels

With today’s advanced tools, interactions with customers can take place on Instagram, apps, websites, physical events, video chats, and more. The opportunities align with a growing familiarity among consumers to blend the digital and in-person world. Customers are ready to communicate and engage via their phones and laptops.

What happens when these shoppers visit a retailer’s Facebook page? What will they see when they visit the website? Will the schedule of events be the same in both places? Do both the social media page and the website correctly list the most recent video produced?

Do Go Beyond Promotions

One reel after another of weekday discounts may not attract a crowd. A balance of helpful content and promotions is key to maintain interest. Instead of looking at what sales to offer, retailers can begin with a set of questions. What challenges does the audience face? How can solutions be presented to them? What steps will help build trust between the customer and the brand? The answers to these questions can drive the content and event calendars.

Don’t Operate Alone

Through her Instagram page, actress and model Molly Sims points fans to apparel, home furnishings, and beauty products that are trending. Visitors to her website can shop her favorite products there as well. While some of the content she shares is entertainment-focused, much is based on partnerships with brands that meet her approval.

Building community doesn’t necessarily mean starting from zero. Connecting with influencers is a strong step to build awareness and reach new potential customers. Retailers can look for social media stars who have an established platform and built-in audience.

Do Maintain Consistency

Outdoor apparel retailer Patagonia provides customers with experiences that extends beyond clothing. For nearly four decades, the company has operated Patagonia Action Works. The platform connects individuals who are interested in contributing toward environmental causes with local grassroots initiatives in their area. Volunteers can put their skills to work, donate funds, sign petitions, or attend events in their region. Over the years, Patagonia has developed a reputation for supporting sustainability.

Communities both notice and value consistency on several levels. If a company posts information regarding an upcoming event they will sponsor, savvy shoppers will notice if the same cause was supported in the past. Retailers must be aware of how often they interact with a community as well. If helpful tips are posted once a week for three months and then abruptly stop, viewers might fall away.

Don’t Take an Audience for Granted

Building and maintaining a community is a two-way street. In addition to providing the audience with useful information, retailers must be attuned to back-and-forth communication. Simply posting pictures on social media is a steep risk. If no staff members read through the comments or reactions, the audience is left unheard.

Flipping the scenario, staff members could pose questions to the community specifically asking for feedback. They might request flavor suggestions for a new ice cream. Or they may ask what type of complimentary products customers would like to see. The suggestions could be used to develop seasonal gear, trendy items, or the next tech gadget.

Do Hold In-Person Events

Customers are accustomed to making transactions online. However, an invitation for a great experience can drive them to a store. If consumers are offered a class on how to make the best banana bread, serious home chefs—or those in the making—might be quick to attend. A workshop on proper weight training for seniors might be well attended by retirees.

Don’t Overlook Revenue

Setting up events and producing online content have costs attached to them. Employees are typically needed to plan and organize meetups, be present at them, and clean up after. Producing videos and maintaining social media channels also requires staff hours. While community-related activities may appear as expenses on financial statements, the revenue rewards can surpass the initial cost. When 3 Rivers Outdoor Company chose a location for its store, community played a significant role in the decision. The Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania-based retailer looked for a place with easy access to hiking, biking, and running trails. Space for an outdoor area that could accommodate campfires was considered a necessity.

After finding a place that met the requirements, 3 Rivers Outdoor Company incorporated events into its regular schedule. The retailer holds campfire hangouts, group runs, and workshop sessions that are open to the community each month. Since starting in its outdoor-oriented location, the retailer has seen double-digit growth.

Do Be Aware of Virtual Spaces

Consumers are doing more than browsing social media and watching videos. 3D experiences create ways for community members to bond. They can laugh together, learn together, and get a collective thrill—all with a headset firmly in place. These 3D experiences might have an in-store use. Retailers can ask questions such as: What sort of information are customers looking for when they enter a store? Are there ways that headsets could help answer their questions? How could these tools be used to further connect with customers and build the relationship?

Don’t Fall Behind

The time to focus on community is today. With ever-evolving technology, retailers can expect that trends will continue to adapt in the coming years. The best-made plans will focus on what customers want and how it can be delivered.

People everywhere have long craved a sense of belonging. Giving them a place where they can connect with others who share their interests is meaningful. If they know of a setting where they will be entertained, informed, and included, they will return.

When done well, community serves as a springboard for higher revenue. Customers develop a relationship with the brand, shop during their experiences with it, and stay to enjoy the company of other group members. In short, it’s a recipe for success in the retail world of today—and tomorrow.

Gerard Szatvanyi

Author: Gerard Szatvanyi

As a founding member and CEO of OSF Digital, Gerry has more than 15 years of experience managing start-ups and medium-size IT businesses and driving them to peak performance. With background in Enterprise Applications, IT Services and Consultancy, Gerry's impressive client and business portfolio sets him in the new breed for global entrepreneurship.