Retail Is About Community
By Jim Lewis, CEO Enhanced Retail Solutions LLC
Retail is about community. Always has been and always will be. It just looks and feels different as we move through time. It probably dates to the Roman Forum. In more modern times, immigrants who came to New York in the early 1900’s set up shop and served people in their own culture from the old country. A lot of that may have had to do with language.
The 80’s saw the introduction of the mall walkers. In the 90’s, I was a Merchandise Manager for JCPenney in South Florida. I got to know several customers by name that came in frequently. We were their store. I would tell them when events were happening or when something new I thought they would like was coming in. In August 1992, Hurricane Andrew devastated most of South Florida. My team worried deeply about our customers- especially the older ones. After a few weeks they slowly started to trickle in. Everyone told their stories. That’s community.
On-Line Shopping Communities
On-line shopping changed the dynamic of retail community significantly. The approach also varies greatly. Amazon’s focus is more about learning what you want and need and getting it to you quickly with as little interaction as possible. Emphasis on the word you. There’s not much of a relationship there.
eBay on the other hand promotes community through their messaging and feedback programs. I recently listed a vintage computer, and some retired Lego sets on the site. Based on the questions that watchers asked me I learned quickly how to add more descriptions, photos, and specific details. One of the auction winners was very specific about how they wanted the item packed and shipped. Even though I don’t know these people, I got that feeling of serving the local customer again.
I suppose this same feeling is why social media platforms are successful. It offers a sense of belonging. There has always been an emotional part to why we buy and smart retailers put a lot of effort to ensure community is part of their strategy.