Store of the Future May Look More Like an Online Community

Reading in Apparel Technology and Insight The “Store” of the Future isn’t a Store: It’s an Experience got us thinking about eCommerce and community.  Author Mark Ledbetter says In essence, the store of the future may not even be a store anymore. At least not in the traditional sense. The store of the future may actually be a holistic brand experience
that ultimately leads to a purchase.” He projects that retailers will be thinking less about driving people to the products (to the traditional “store”) and more about improving the experience individual shoppers have with the brand.

Why? As you think about it, who do you trust most in helping you make shopping decisions?  Your friends, of course. Word of mouth is one of the oldest and most effective forms of marketing. In the pre internet world, word of mouth was limited to person-to-person communication. Consumers now have the ability to share their experiences and opinions with their peers online in almost unlimited ways, which are both powerful and influential. In fact, a large majority of online shoppers now trust what other customers say  about the products they buy more than the e-tailers themselves.

Some people think the rise in online commerce has automated the buying decision to little more than a mechanical process of clicking on price comparison engines. While it is true that self-service is a pervasive trend in eCommerce, just because consumers are engaging in digital formats, doesn’t mean they have lost their humanity.  Just the opposite.  Given the opportunity for more communication and interaction, people tend to join communities, which become stronger, breeding more incisive feedback and stickier customer loyalty. Consumers benefit from their ability to recognize in each other “people like me” and to form genuine relationships.

Both the content and possibility of forming relationships with other buyers and with the brand’s managers act as a magnet, drawing consumers back to the site on a frequent and regular basis. It’s a recurring cycle of customer engagement. Once customers take the time to sit down and write a review, it is likely that they will feel a stronger sense of loyalty to the brand. And they will be more likely to come back to see what others have written and to check if anyone has responded to their post.  In this respect, providing a forum which connects the brand site with community participants potentially creates a new marketing tool.

Companies might not feel comfortable about letting this happen organically and relinquishing control of the “message.”  That would be a mistake.  Consumers today smell self-serving marketing a mile away.  A better approach is to let the community evolve through a combination of organic and structured involvement. Brand community managers can interject when necessary to let customers know they are out there listening and attending to their needs, they feel confident and good about using the brand on a regular basis.

One of our clients, Nutrex Hawaii has taken an effective community approach to selling its Hawaiian super nutrients. Building a community around testimonials, accredited health industry advocates, consumer-supplied recipes and more help them establish a brand loyalty bond that transcends traditional commerce.  This site is a great illustration of how to engage shoppers who are looking for nutrition products, science-based information and a lifestyle community. And for them, this approach has paid off in broader awareness and overall success.

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About Sean Cook

Chief Executive Officer
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