When Community Retail Becomes The Community Hub

Stores are now becoming more prominent as community hubs to engage and interact with their audience.

The physical store has to be more than creating theatre, but establishing deeper emotional connection with a localised audience.

During the Retail Outlet retailer forum earlier this year, the use of space as more than selling product became a key point in the discussion.

Are we looking at the role where selling is now becoming more pronounced online but brand connection, loyalty and intimacy is happening offline?


Highlighting A Community Retail Theme

During our conversations and articles throughout 2016 there is a clear thread. From our ‘retail diversification’ and ‘agile retail design’ articles there is a theme to elaborate here. Retailers need to provide a reason that is more than ‘buy our products,’ but a place to interact and not just transact.

There has to be a role for the retailer to evolve as a community hub.

This idea of a store matching the same beliefs and attitudes as their customers has become more prevalent as we move into 2017.

Mamas and Papas launched, in 2016, their new concept store in Westfield, White City. The store is created to encourage parents to visit and participate in parenting support groups. In the new Northcote Road store, London, Mamas and Papas regard this as a ‘community space’ with pre and post-natal yoga classes, nutritional advice and also workshops.

Drinks retailer Majestic Wine have recently launched (September) their Tasting Club, a personalised events programme run from their stores to utilise the expertise of over 900 in store ‘wine gurus’ to help a community of wine lovers discover new wines.

Both examples highlight providing added value where experiences go beyond a retailer’s core product offering, but inclusivity within a local community.


The Different Customer Touch Point

Building a business with community at its heart is key for success that goes beyond a campaign. It has to become an approach. In a recent Essential Retail article, Catriona Marsall, CEO of Hobbycraft, stated that “60% of the traffic to our website is natural search – we’re working really hard to build a community so that we don’t have to pay for our marketing or we create our own marketing in a natural way.”

The bricks and mortar store facilitates a different customer touch point altogether. Brands may not be able to make a deeper connection in traditional high square footage retail parks, but locate to where customers are within the communities that they are part of to create a deeper connection. For instance, Screwfix introduced their first Screwfix City Store in Fulham to become accessible for inner city trades people (and local consumers) and not necessarily having to drive to large stores on trading estates.

The High Street has to be seen as more than a collection of retailers, but a way to reward those people who make high frequency visits. If a shopping experience isn’t pleasant, people may as well focus everything online.

People have to be provided with a reason to feel part of something that enables them to connect and make a connection to what is consistent in their life. A brand has to be relevant to its customer base. From the Nike+ Run Clubs organising their ongoing running club to Game providing gaming events in store, these all provide a way to make an emotional connection and provide a sense of occasion.

This ‘sense of occasion’ is also being adopted by museums. The Natural History Museum opened their first pop-up store in Bluewater and highlights an iconic British landmark that became present where people shop (and in a new space). A community hub represents making a connection where people interact.

More Than ‘Buy Now’

Retailers becoming community hubs means delivering a more enriching experience. If a brand has a wide range of items, it doesn’t necessarily mean that customers have to see every range. Moving into next year, is there to be more emphasis on the experience and the guided sale, rather than the ‘buy now’ messages?

When retail becomes a community hub it takes on a new role for a space to not only provide the traditional retail outlet but also as retail, social, work and leisure spaces.

Shopping centres themselves are central hubs. The new Victoria Gate shopping centre, in Leeds (opened October 2016), is expected to compliment the success of the £350 million Trinity Leeds scheme. Trinity Leeds attracted 12 million shoppers in its first year and increased Leeds overall visitor numbers by one million.


Conclusion Time

Contrasted to the convenience of online, it is the role of the retailer to utilise space to deliver a more meaningful experience that connects with the surrounding local area.

It is time for retailers to make space more agile and be more than seasonal goods but embrace events programmes and initiatives that invite participation. This provides people with a reason to visit and be part of something that is consistently relevant.

Every square footage of floor space has to earn its property cost back, but could retail space be used better?

A community hub is centred on how space is created and curated. When space works it provides the opportunity to support the connection with customers and the strategy a brand is pursuing. Being where an audience are provides a reason to connect and build loyalty.

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