There’s no doubt that recent technology is shaping the future of retail but while digitally advanced innovations mean convenience and speed for some, others question their impact on the sense of community that stores have offered historically. From online shopping to self-scanning check-outs, opportunities for human connection might appear to be dwindling . However, it seems that the apprehensive amongst us need not fear – many brands are working to counteract this concern.
Recognising the importance of fostering a sense of community amongst consumers, well-known retailers are creating spaces – also known as ‘campfire stores’ – that encourage customers to connect offline. Dr Martens’ ‘Boot Room’ hosts a full programme of performances by emerging and established artists and Selfridges’ designer streetwear department now boasts a permanent and public skateboarding bowl (an initiative that echoes the temporary transformation of its Ultralounge events area into a live music venue). Further fostering togetherness, Game’s arenas offer a place for e-gamers to play and socialise, while Nike’s pop-up summer basketball camp serves as a cultural hub in Chicago’s West Loop. Dubbed Just Do It HQ at The Church, the initiative aims to upskill local youth, offering a weeks’ worth of elite training, interactive workshops and pro-player appearances in a newly repurposed neighbourhood church.
With community comes connections and several brands are working to further strengthen these by highlighting a deeper understanding of their customers’ needs. Beauty retailer Sephora launched free, in-store make-up classes for transgender shoppers, recognising that this demographic may find shopping for cosmetics to be a stressful experience. Department store Liberty London offered customers workshops on long-lasting relationships in collaboration with a local life-coaching company. By positioning themselves as safe spaces where consumers are able to receive advice and understanding, brands are better able to create deeper, longer-lasting connections with their customers
Caring for the Customer
Several forward-thinking brands have evolved to make themselves community focal points for older consumers, in particular. Leading the way is Japanese retail giant Aeon. Opening at 7am to accommodate early-risers, thirteen city locations have been redesigned to include exercise zones, health check-up units and more in-store seating. Similarly, senior-friendly French supermarket Intermaché offers assisted shopping, cooking lessons and sporting sessions. Trialling similar initiatives in the UK, a Sainsbury’s store in Newcastle hosts weekly Slow Shopping afternoons, with chairs positioned in the aisles and extra help on offer for elderly customers. This not only allows for a more comfortable shopping experience but also fosters a reassuring sense of community.
While in-store technological advances have undeniably changed the ways in which retailers and consumers interact, campfire stores, deeper connections and considerate care for customers all contribute to the development of a special culture and community that is evidently still highly valued, both by brand and consumer.