For retailers, relationship building is essential. Relationships build trust, which, in turn, drives sales.
In fact, 88% of consumers agree trust is an important factor in helping them decide which brands to buy.
But building community takes work.
From using your retail space to offer unique experiences to celebrating your local community through special marketing efforts, there’s a lot to do. In this guide, we'll walk you through proven ways to build a strong community and, by extension, an engaged customer base.
Keep reading to learn:
What is community retailing?
Community retailing is strategically building a community brought together under the umbrella of a shared interest(s) to grow a business.
At its heart, it is customer-first, striving to offer value to all community members. It’s why community building never takes a “sales-y” or business-first approach.
4 ways to build community through retail
1. Be authentic
The cornerstone of successful community building is authenticity.
You’re less likely to attract loyal community members if your efforts reflect your business objectives (read: selfish motives). In fact, no community built upon a facade can be sustainable.
If anything, consumers expect brands to be invested in their success and to be transparent with them. Take it from 84% of US millennials who say they’re more loyal to a brand if it’s transparent. Ninety percent of consumers also say it’s important for a business to treat them like human beings.
So instead of approaching community retailing as a business opportunity (even though it is!), consider the community you cultivate to be true to you and to your brand.
Start with establishing a strong brand identity to guide your company values. Also important here is determining commonalities in the passions of yourself, your brand, and your ideal customers. Then create a community based on these shared values and interests.
2. Host in-store events
From dedicating retail foot space to content creation studios to hosting local community events, there are numerous ways to build and engage a retail community.
Here are a few ideas:
Use your store space to build 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 community members can book for free (they also frequently host local artisan markets). Make the spaces transformative or multipurpose to allow for a more robust community environment.
Host in-store retail events
Host community-building retail events of your own.
These events help you connect with and learn more about your customers while building brand loyalty. Over 40% of consumers admit they become more loyal to businesses after attending their events.
In-store events also grow brand awareness and social media buzz as attendees share quotes and multimedia (videos or images) of a live event on their social media.
It’s why retailers like Lululemon offer free weekly in-store yoga classes. Similarly, Toronto’s Wonder Pens hosts a letter-writing club, and not far away, Workroom Tech holds sewing classes and workshops.
Provide unique experiences in your store
Another way to grow your community is to use the space to provide an excellent shopping experience.
More than one-third of consumers (35%) plan to engage with retailers via experiential moments according to a Forrester Consulting study commissioned by and conducted on behalf of Shopify. Sixty percent of consumers also say they expect retailers to dedicate more physical store space to experiences than products.
Cabin West Pop-Up and Frank & Oak are shining examples of experiential retail.
Beauty brand Cabin West’s pop-up gives store space to a curated bookshop, a hair salon, and home goods displays. On the other hand, Frank & Oak houses the Cafe St Viateur at its flagship store in Toronto.
3. Leverage your digital community
A community isn’t limited to physical space. Taking offline community experiences online (or vice versa) helps you reach your community through multiple communication touch points, strengthening it further.
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 relationship building and encourage conversation in your newsletter or publication
Create an online group to continue conversations in your community beyond the storefront
Get:Outdoors, for example, uses public Facebook events to announce community gatherings such as training classes for environmental initiatives.
Use your website to keep your local community posted
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.
Celebrate community members by featuring their stories
Skincare brand Glow Recipe celebrates its community of empowered women with its Boss Babes interview series that shares stories of successful female entrepreneurs.
This is on top of Glowipedia, a section of its site that teaches its audience how to achieve the look they want—another effective way to give to your community.
4. Tap into the local community
Finally, you can also dive into community retailing by getting active in existing communities.
You don’t have to start building a community around your store from scratch. Instead, look to other local businesses and organizations you can partner with. Then invite your community to visit your store after you’ve cultivated real relationships.
It’s also a fruitful idea to support the communities surrounding your store. BlackToe Running, for example, has customers who are interested in running. So it hosts regular running groups to help customers who are training for 10Ks, marathons, and other races.
Community Cycles, on the other hand, sells recycled, refurbished, and repaired bicycles to customers who are interested in cycling. It hosts workshops teaching bike maintenance and other related topics of interest.
Increase store foot traffic with Shopify
Shopify comes with built-in tools to bring more online shoppers to your store. Manage your Google Merchant Center listing without leaving your point of sale, show each product’s availability across all store locations, offer in-store pickup, and more.
11 examples of community retail
Let's review some more examples of how other retailers are building loyal communities.
1. 3 Rivers Outdoor Co.
Pittsburgh’s independent outdoor shop, 3 Rivers Outdoor Co., sells new and used outdoor equipment and apparel. The owner, Christine Iksic, uses her store’s available patio space with a fire pit to host monthly campfire hangouts for her community.
These campfires aren’t the only events 3 Rivers Outdoor Co. hosts though. Christine uses the outdoor patio to host music concerts every Monday, too.
Even before the store, eevee’s co-founder, Bradley Spence, was part of several PEV-loving local communities. He was hosting group rides and reviewing accessories for one-wheels, which led to him quickly becoming trusted as the community’s go-to resource on PEVs.
So when Bradley opened eevee’s with co-founder Lukas Tanasiuk, they were already trusted as experts in the niche in their community.
But since convincing people to buy an electric unicycle isn’t so straightforward, the founders have been investing in educating their community too. It’s why they do free training lessons on riding a unicycle every Sunday.
Adding to that, the retailers use their retail space strategically—leaving enough space to allow customers to test drive a ride. There are also pegboards in the shelves to make it easy to move them around and make more space.
3. Sunlight Sports
Sunlight Sports, an outdoor sports retailer in Cody, Wyoming, invests in community retailing by bringing together its members for weekly pint nights.
But these aren’t just any pint nights.
The money raised goes to local nonprofits, helping in several ways. For one, it strengthens Sunlight Sports’ brand identity as a retailer dedicated to giving to its community. Two, non-profits get the much-needed money while the brand and its customers make connections with one another.
Lastly, drinkers feel good about joining and participating, because they know their beer money is going to a cause they care about.
4. Love Record Stores
Love Record Stores leverages experiential retail and social media to build its community.
In 2020, in light of the pandemic, the store used the hashtag #LoveRecordStores to encourage its target community of music lovers to continue buying records from local record shops, which led to over £1 million in sales.
The store also uses its physical retail space to host DJ sets and live music performances, in addition to selling its merchandise.
Another Shopify customer taking a community-first approach is LIVELY, a retailer selling comfortable lingerie.
Even before launching its store, LIVELY started building a digital presence centered around connecting with other women. Since its focus was on building one-on-one relationships though, LIVELY started sponsoring local events to bring people together, which turned into a resounding success as people started asking if they sold anything.
That said, LIVELY also hosts DIY classes, hip-hop dance classes, and entrepreneurial panels in its stores.
When it comes to assisting customers in shopping, the staff takes a low-pressure, consultative approach. They offer customers a beverage as they walk in, talk to them, and guide them as needed.
The retailer also allows its customers to book “fit sesh” appointments online for an in-store bra fitting. Not only does this increase foot traffic but it also drives in-store sales further.
To top it all off, LIVELY also takes steps to empower its community members by sharing their career stories on its podcast.
6. Peak Design
Camera accessory and bag retailer Peak Design brings its community together by offering artists, its target audience, a co-working space at its flagship store in San Francisco.
The coworking space is open to local creatives like artists and photographers between 1 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. on Wednesdays.
Such a community retailing initiative shows Peak Design as a business invested in its target customers’ success. It also reflects Peak Design’s brand identity as a retailer invested in San Francisco’s creative community.
Apparel brand Knix celebrates its community with the Life After Birth Project, which shares postpartum stories around the world. It features over 650 stories—photographed and brought to life using a traveling photography exhibit.
In sharing these postpartum stories, the gallery—now a book—has not only become a platform for women but has turned into a support platform for others.
Knix also shares all the proceeds from its book to the NOURISH postpartum doula training program, created with the Black Women’s Health Imperative to support Black birthing families. This further amplifies Knix’s core brand values of inclusivity and supporting women.
In May, for example, Hy-Vee honored the National Celiac Disease Awareness Month by educating on gluten-free recipes featuring its own 30 gluten-free products.
Events included dietitian-led workshops on meal prepping tips, gluten-free meal and snack choices, and educating members on hidden sources of protein.
Hy-Vee also has an online community building plan that lets members complete workshops virtually—either on their own or with a dietitian.
The earrings retailer and ear-piercing center uses its store space to enhance customer experience by offering fun mirrors for selfies and installations like its Ear Chair in Boston.
10. Outdoor Voices
Like Studs, Outdoor Voices, a Shopify customer and athletic wear retailer, offers a content creation studio (look at these dressing-room-slash-gym-lockers) at its store and offers exciting displays to encourage customers to create UGC.
Outdoor Voices also hosts exercise classes such as yoga and strength training sessions at its store—its site lists all the events so community members don’t miss any.
11. Carlisle Pet Foods
Carlisle Pet Foods, another Shopify merchant, not only sells pet food but has also created a friendly space for pet owners to connect with each other.
Behind its store, it’s built a free dog wash as well, so the location has come to be known as a free pet service provider too.
In addition, the founders invest in local events like food drives and costume events to engage their community.
Start building your retail community today
Community retailing comes with numerous benefits.
It’s the most authentic route to earning your audience’s trust and growing brand awareness and sales. It helps create word of mouth and UGC, too.
Most of all, community retailing leaves your customers feeling valued, an unparalleled way of turning them into brand advocates.
Start building your community today. Shortlist the tactics you want to try and get to work on bringing like-minded individuals together.
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