Retailers Need to Master Building Shopping Communities in 2017
Wow. A month into 2017 and The Limited and Wet Seal are closing their doors forever. Hundreds of stores gone, thousands of jobs gone. The rest of the brick-and-mortar retailers panic and wonder whether they can slash prices and profit margins again. Many are throwing up their hands, muttering that it’s impossible to fight the dragon of online sales. “The future of retail is online,” they say, “and I guess that means I’m done.”
It's a gross oversimplification to think that “online shopping” is a threat to the traditional retail space. The online space isn't a digital reproduction of a mall or catalog, where the appeal simply comes from people being able to shop in their pajamas at home without getting in the car. In fact, many people shop online at work. Online shopping is about more than ease; it’s about community.
The traditional retail model depends on loyalty to brands and merchants. It’s cheaper to get repeat customers. The online model is about relationships, where trust is built up over time between merchants and their prospective customers through careful, coordinated use of quantum media, also known as a “media ecosystem," which Michael Drew of Promote A Book defines as “the convergence of media towards the same end.”
This means successful online retailers use all online platforms — vlogs, blogs, podcasts and, of course, social media of all stripes — to focus all of their messaging on a common purpose: to draw prospective customers to their ideas, products and brand. Once they're there, those potential buyers discover a community of other people like themselves. This is the crucial difference between traditional retail and the online space.
Long before Macy’s decided to close stores, it wasn't unusual for two or three girlfriends to shop together there as retail therapy. But over time that bonding experience grew more difficult as it became harder to know what was on the racks, salespeople became invisible, and the friends discovered that they had different tastes and interests. Shopping became an activity for one.
Over at Sephora, however, it’s a party. Through its online community, BeautyTalk, you can find thousands of other people who are interested in the same things as you, have tried stuff you wonder about, and will tell you about their experiences in one of the topic areas, where there are thousands of conversational threads about everything, including Beauty Confessions. Beauty Insiders get information and specials before anyone else, and twice a week they get access to special limited time one-of-a-kind experiences, services and coveted samples. In other words, Sephora is shopping you show up for — and that experience continues inside its brick-and-mortar stores. Sephora doesn’t just know its customers; it knows their names and who they talk to.
The internet has come a long way from AOL and viral kitten videos, but not every business is equipped to jump into the online space firing on all cylinders, and that full-speed approach is needed. While today’s consumer may not know exactly what well-integrated quantum media looks and feels like, believe me, they know when it’s wrong and they won’t return, no matter how many upgrades you make to your site. It’s never too late to change … except for Sears, I suppose.
Charlie Fusco is the CEO and Founder of Synergixx, a national direct response marketing firm.