The power of connecting communities: 4 trends in retail

Picture your life at the beginning of the pandemic. It’s April, and you haven’t seen your friends or family for over a month. All you wanted was to leave your home, feel some sun, and hug your friend, your family, or your neighbor.

The pandemic has taught us all that community is one of the most important factors in our lives. For a long time, retailers have done a good job of connecting their customers through physical touch points—but things like DIY craft classes at Michael’s, open mic nights at cafes, and product tutorial workshops at Apple are all increasingly challenging as people limit physical contact. In recent months, as we’ve entered “the new normal,” I’ve seen rapid growth in brands’ efforts to connect their communities digitally.

Here are four trends to watch:

1. Connecting customers who trust in each other

Consumers love product reviews. Brands are beginning to take product reviews and crowdsourcing satisfaction to a new level. They’re utilizing product reviews for product discovery by tagging search data with the content of a product’s reviews. Imagine a metallic eyeliner at Ulta and a review that says “a perfect liner for Coachella!” By connecting that review data with search tags, a search for ‘perfect festival eyeliner’ (when festivals are a thing again) could result in that product on the search page.

Crowdsourcing is an underutilized method for community engagement. Picture a product page with the ability to select a second product and compare product content side by side. Taking that approach even further, imagine a box to input phone numbers, emails, or social sharing, to send products to friends and family and ask “which do you think?” More phone numbers, emails, and social handles to add to your list as well as a way for your customers to crowdsource opinions.

2. Building digital community platforms

Good content is paramount to success in the retail space, especially one that is shifting to digital at a rapid pace. Building direct-to-consumer channels and building out content centers on these owned properties will elevate your community connection functionality.

Host how-to videos on your own site instead of third party providers like YouTube. Invite customers to virtual events but make sure that they aren’t cumbersome over Zoom and fit well with your brand.

You can even lean into the customer experience and testimonials as Sephora has done with their look of the day community. Each photo has shoppable tags and both customers are rewarded with loyalty points—the poster and the purchaser.

3. Getting creative with shop local

Shop local has been a trend for years but the pandemic has expedited the power of local commerce. This is good news for even the biggest of brands.

Aldi, as an example, has created a digital space for connecting their customers with personal chefs in their area that also shop at Aldi. By connecting their customers, they create positive experiences that simultaneously deepen their loyalty. This could be applied to so many retail categories. Think of a home improvement store connecting customers to plumbers or electricians in the area who also shop with them. These types of connections would both benefit local economies and small businesses as well as the “big box” brand offering them.

4. Leaning into your branding

The return of the hero product has catapulted community connection in new ways. Think of the biggest hero products out there—Stila Stay All Day black eye liner is an example from the beauty category. Customers are incredibly proud to own those products. The hero product bolsters a brand’s image and there’s an instant community between customers who both own it.

Creating a hero product through smart marketing can be challenging but highly rewarding. By matching the right audience and the right product, brands can create instant community simply through owning the brand’s product.

These four rising trends in retail are potentially just the beginning of further connections between shoppers. It’s not about simply adding a logo to a t-shirt. It’s not about holding an event in your store. Creating digital and physical connections between customers is fundamental to ongoing retail success. Want more of my retail insights? Check out my blog on the first scent of the holiday shopping season and connect with me on LinkedIn.