• Transform magazine
  • June 26, 2022


Insights: Building community through retail culture

Julie Oxberry (1).jpg

At the 2018 Transform Awards North America, the best in rebranding and brand development was celebrated. Household was one of the winners

It’s no secret that customers’ lives, and consequently their shopping behaviours, are changing. Legacy retailers employing exclusively tried and tested methods need to innovate to stay relevant.

With sales increasingly taking place online, the opportunity for physical retail is to evolve from a place of mere transaction to something more. Take Amazon, whose growing physical retail drive has been the story of 2017 and 2018 amid questions about physical retail’s future. The tech giant is going much further than bookshops and Whole Foods stores, it’s reimagining what can constitute physical space. Nowhere is this more apparent than with its Treasure Truck taking the convenience of large-scale e-commerce and providing the excitement and spontaneity that inhabitants of cities like New York, Seattle and Portland thrive on.

A focus on the customer is key to retail success, and brands have the opportunity to shift physical retail from a space of transaction to a place for relationship building. Using the spirit of placemaking, a multifaceted approach that reimagines public spaces to enhance wellbeing, retailers can go beyond the role of product provider and re-position themselves as landlords of retail 'service hubs.'

Enhancing customer wellbeing by better meeting their lifestyle needs, these new ‘service hubs’ will offer a diverse range of products, services and experiences in an environment that customers don't want to leave. This helps customers feel they have co-ownership of a worthwhile experience and catalyses a culture that plays to the innate strengths of physical retail: a ‘retail culture.’

Ultimately, a successful retail experience is about so much more than just creating a destination. A conventional, single-function retail destination is all about the product and about drawing in customers to make purchases. But such spaces lack relevance in an age in which anything can be purchased with a click.

The best brands build community through a sense of belonging. Brands such as Rapha focus on relationship building to drive sales and build brand equity. It puts the cycling community at its centre, opens clubhouses, not stores and refers to members, not customers. From annual summits to weekly rides, this is about real activity and engagement, not paying lip service to a community ideal.

Brands need to look beyond the product and nurture spaces that engender a community of like-minded individuals who feel they have contributed something to that space (or vice versa). If it can achieve this, that brand becomes more than just a brand; it becomes a social enabler. Legacy retailers need to be brave and move beyond boardroom culture to strike upon ideas that matter to customers. Only those prepared to fail will continue to carve out purpose in customers’ ever-changing lives.

Julie Oxberry, managing director and co-founder of Household