Creating Community: How Retailers Can Build an Engaged Customer Base

Creating Community: How Retailers Can Build an Engaged Customer Base

Building a community | Shopify Retail blogFor retailers, relationship-building is essential. Relationships build trust, and without trust, retailers have an uphill battle to making sales.

Nearly two-thirds of global consumers consider brand trust to be of great importance, and when retailers build that trust, they’re empowered to do much more than close a sale.

Brick-and-mortar retailers have the opportunity to create physical communities of those loyal customers. These communities provide tangible value that keep customers in stores longer, bring them back, and spread your brand story through word-of-mouth referrals

92% global consumers trust recommendations and imagine the amplification if you had a whole community of word-of-mouth marketers recommending your store to their friends and family.

But building community takes more than just building trust. It takes the right physical space, the right cause and dedication from your entire team. And here are some ways retailers can move forward with creating a community around your brand and building an engaged customer base as a result.

Be Authentic

If you want to establish community within your retail space, it must be authentic and transparent. No community built upon a facade can be sustainable.

Instead of approaching it as a business opportunity (even though it is!), consider the community you cultivate to be true to you and to your brand. If you have the goal of attracting people to events with the sole intention of making a sale, your community members will quickly catch on.

Establish commonalities in the values and passions of yourself, your brand and your ideal customers and consider community-driven efforts towards those topics.

It’s key to establish a strong brand identity to guide your company values. From there, you can establish a basis for your community. For some brands, it makes sense to go green66% of global consumers prefer to spend money with a sustainable brand.

Knowing your brand identity can also help you establish an identity for your community. Maybe you even have a name for community members—such as Luxe 30’s “luxe lovers.”

Look Outside Your Store

Your community isn’t limited to your physical space. Instead, allow your community to extend beyond your storefront. When you reach your community through multiple communication touch points, your community and relationships with customers will strengthen.

Here are some ideas to get started:

  • Create a dedicated newsletter for people who attend your community events and gatherings. Interact with them and avoid trying to sell your products—prioritize the relationships and encourage conversation.
  • Get active in an existing community. You don’t have to start from scratch building a community around your store. Instead, look to other local businesses and organizations you can partner with. The city of Greensboro, North Carolina, (as well as many other cities) allows local fitness studios to teach several complimentary community yoga, boot camp, and other classes. Then invite your community to visit your store after you’ve cultivated real relationships.
  • Organize litter clean-ups and build your own community by protecting your local community. Some companies, such as outdoor retailer Get:Outdoors, offer training classes for more advanced environmental initiatives.

    Leave No Trace | Shopify Retail blog

Spread the Word About Your Community

Social Media

Talk about your community on social media, but in an organic way that shares your excitement about the community. You don’t need to overtly persuade people to join; simply seeing the community you’ve cultivated in action could be enough. Here are some ideas:

  • Create public Facebook events for your community gatherings. People may find them more easily, even if they don’t like your page, and anyone who’s indicated interest will receive notifications.
  • Maintain community management on your social media channels to show people you’re engaged with your community both on and offline.
  • Use paid social ads to geotarget people nearby who can become part of your community.
  • Post photos of your community in action.
  • Create and manage a private Facebook group where your community can engage with one another in a safe online space.

Email

When customers shop in-store, offer an easy way for them to sign up for your email list. Then, email them about your community, community events and other content related to your community. For example, if your community is comprised of runners, send emails with running tips and techniques, with a call-out to your next group run club.

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Your Website

Promote your community on your website, whether you sell online or not. Maintain a calendar with your events, share photos of your community, talk about accomplishments your community has made, and publish blog posts about your community group.

Word-of-mouth

Encourage your community to share about the community. Word-of-mouth marketing is extremely powerful—82% of Americans say they seek opinions from friends and family when considering a purchase. So, encourage your existing community members to spread the word. Try offering a referral program (bring a friend to an upcoming event for free or both get a discount on a service) to get people talking and bringing in acquaintances with similar interests.

Other Channels

There are many other channels where you can promote your community. Create a Meetup group or register events on eventbrite.com to reach new audiences. There are also niche websites for local communities and specific interests where you may be able to tout your community.

Create a Space That Cultivates Community

If you want community in your store, you need to facilitate the physical space to allow for community. Build communal spaces, such as lounges, large tables, or separated private rooms, that your community members can use as meeting spaces.

Deep Roots Market, for example, has a communal space that community members can book for free (they also frequently host local artisan markets). Make the spaces transformative or multi-purpose to allow for a more robust community environment.

Chris Guillot, retail expert of Merchant Method, has hosted events at local floral shop The Carrot Flower Company. The retailer has created a unique and welcoming space: open windows, outdoor benches, and an accessible storefront.

Merchant Method | Shopify Retail blogOhana Arts & Wellness Center allows a drum circle to meet regularly in their space, outside of store hours. Attendees don’t even have the option to purchase products until the store is operating under its normally scheduled hours. 

Offer complimentary refreshments and other comforts (blankets, if it’s an outdoor space that gets breezy, for instance) to encourage people to stay longer.

Host Community Events

Community event | Shopify Retail blogIn addition to opening your retail space to community events, you can opt to host community-building events of your own.

Many retailers, like lululemon and prAna, host community yoga classes in partnership with local yoga studios. But you can get more creative and more specific to your niche:

Brooklyn’s House of Kava is passionate about the creative arts community, so you’ll see them hosting Jam Sessions and Open Mic Nights. Toronto’s Wonder Pens hosts a letter-writing club, and not far away, the workroom holds sewing classes and workshops

But not every event you hold has to be close to your product. The Triad Yoga Institute, which has yoga classes and sells yoga- and wellness-related products, has also hosted pet adoption fairs.

These fairs—in conjunction with free yoga classes, discounted products, and raffled prizes—draw a crowd of like-minded individuals who can inspire a new community within the larger Triad Yoga Institute community.

Know Your Community

If you don’t understand who your community of customers is, then you’re going to have a hard time offering the community space and time that will be most relevant to them.

BlackToe Running, for example, has customers who are interested in running. Therefore, they host regular running groups to help customers who are training for 10ks, marathons, and other races.

Community Cycles sells recycled, refurbished, and repaired bicycles to customers who are—obviously—interested in cycling. They host workshops that teach bike maintenance and other related topics of interest.

Toronto’s Town Moto sells motorcycle gear, parts, and maintenance products. They offer beginning rider seminars for new motorcycle owners, as well as ridealongs.

But for those retailers, you might argue that understanding their community is an easier feat. Gibbs Hundred Brewery, on the other hand, caters to an audience of varied interests. They host community events—such as spelling bees, trivia, and chicken wing cook-offs—many of which pair well with the shared interest of beer.

Urban Outfitters’ Manhattan location also caters to an audience with less-specific interests. They’ve created community in their store by providing an in-store coffee shop, hair salon, bike-repair station, and photography section. If you have the space, cater to multiple areas of interest.

More Examples of Retailers Creating Community

Some retailers have gone so far as to create a community of retail:

  • Emily Arbour breathed new life into the small town of Almonte, Canada through several successful retail businesses. She transformed the entire town into a thriving retail community. Since then, she’s founded Small Town Love, an organization that helps communities and businesses connect and create a larger community together.
  • New Orleans’ Frenchmen Art Market is an artisan market inserted into an existing community. Frenchmen Street is notorious for its soulful music and party atmosphere, and the quirky goods offered by the market’s retailers enhance the existing community.

Creating a new community with several retailers can be intimidating—you don’t have to be the founder to get involved in similar community-driven retail environments. One great way to experiment is by opening a pop-up shop, partnering with other local businesses to amplify the reach.

How Do You Build Community?

Have you built community in your retail store? What tactics have you used that have worked and haven’t worked?

Photo of Alexandra Sheehan

About the Author

Alexandra Sheehan is a freelance writer/editor and content specialist. She’s worked with retailers ranging from Fortune 100 companies to Etsy shop owners, and is always looking for innovative ways to help her clients.

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