By Retail Doctor Group, in association with Ebeltoft Group
With consumer confidence on the steady decline, shoppers are turning to retailers they feel they can trust and rely on. Today’s consumers want reassurance that the brands they use will look after them and their family’s needs.
This growing need for community commitment from brands has led customers to choose retailers who make them feel cared for and connected to the community around them. Brands must look beyond the transaction and build real connections to retain shoppers in 2024 and beyond.
At RDG, we predict that community engagement will become a significant retail trend. This trend will be fueled by consumers’ increasing need for human connection.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
- The Decline of Consumer Confidence
- The Rise of Community-Centric Retail
- The Benefits of Community-Centric Retail
- Strategies for Retailers to Build Community-Centric Initiatives
- Real-World Examples of Customer-Centric Retailers
- The Future of Community-Centric Retail
Thanks to the lingering effects of the pandemic, coupled with the necessary rise of the digital revolution, retailers have been pushed to differentiate themselves. One of the truly change-making ways we see this happening is through community-building initiatives.
For retailers who take this trend seriously, the rewards for aligning themselves to the social values and concerns of their customers include a significant gain in loyalty shoppers and an enhanced customer experience that keeps them coming back.
The Decline of Consumer Confidence
Consumer confidence across Australia is at an all-time low. This is exacerbated by persistently high inflation, rising interest rates, housing unaffordability, and a much broader economic uncertainty that’s left shoppers anxious and insecure about their financial futures.
This decline became evident at the start of 2023, where consumer confidence recorded a whopping second lowest level in nearly 50 years! This is the highest it’s been since the 1991 recession.
This erosion of confidence has significantly impacted shopping habits, not just in Australia but around the world, too. As a result, consumers have become much more selective, more purposeful in their intentions, and now lean towards discretionary purchases with a focus on savings.
Many customers have turned to discount retailers, own brands, and pre-loved goods to make their dollar go further. Impulse shopping is down, big ticket buys are delayed, and overall retail spending has stalled… bar one exception: shoptimism.
Described as fulfilling the need for small, rewarding purchases with a low cost yet high value, shoptimism is a breakout trend that’s defying all strategic logic. How can consumers still spend on luxuries when financial pressures have forced them to re-evaluate their needs versus their wants?
Research indicates that Australians have shifted their spend towards essentials like groceries and energy, discretionary about where their money goes. Data on luxurious and non-essential purchases – the cornerstone of shoptimistic behaviours – indicates that consumers’ top priorities have shifted to goods and services that offer them quality, longevity, and sustainability.
The Rise of Community-Centric Retail
Creating community-centric initiatives is going to be a key differentiator for retailers in 2024 and beyond. In an era where declining consumer confidence has irrevocably changed what consumers want from their retailers, we see several key factors emerging to shift consumer sentiment:
- Retailers as trusted allies
- Retailers as community-centric forces for good
- Retailers as humanistic storytellers
- Retailers as social shopping destinations
- Retailers as nurturing innovators
Retailers as Trusted Allies
These trends highlight how worsening economic conditions have made consumers more averse to risk. Strained budgets and heightened financial insecurity means consumers are now only shopping from retailers they can reliably trust to deliver quality goods and services.
The focus for retailers will be to build confidence through transparency and value as a way to show they really care about their customers. Trusted allies in the shoppers’ struggle to make ends meet, retailers are ideally positioned to leverage themselves as solution-givers.
Research tells us that retailers can boost trust and affinity with brands by showcasing ethical sourcing, sustainability, and support for social causes as interwoven elements of their culture. Retailers must make tangible commitments in these areas to reassure consumers that their values and wellbeing are priorities.
Retailers as Community-Centric Forces for Good
Financial anxiety is what’s behind consumers craving a deeper human connection. Retailers that can cultivate a sense of community, demonstrate they care, and foster meaningful relationships with their customers are primed to meet this need.
According to research conducted by Deloitte, 60% of Australians believe that businesses need to focus more on people, community, and the planet than they do on profits. Consumers therefore expect the retailers they support to be forces for good in society.
Retailers are able to build community, demonstrating shared values through Initiatives that incorporate financial inclusion, job creation, local sourcing, and eco-friendly business practices. These efforts also help to develop brand advocacy and retail loyalty.
Retailers as Humanistic Storytellers
Ultimately, today’s shoppers want to feel like they’re an integral part of a retailer’s community. Retailers will need to build community by creating spaces where humans can connect within commerce.
Loyalty programs, member-only events, private online groups, and subscription-based models can also help retailers foster community. By leveraging these benefits-based initiatives that give customers exclusive perks and access to other community members, retailers can boost engagement and retention.
To humanise their brand, retailers should offer in-store experiences like workshops, classes, and family events. For example, Bunnings’ hosts regular ‘DIY Workshops‘ that bring customers together to build skills and like-minded connections, fostering a sense of belonging within that social circle.
Cultivating an online community is just as important, given the increasingly digital retail environment we now shop in. Social channels are an untapped opportunity for retailers to tell their stories, give consumers product feedback, and interact in real-time with their customer base.
Retailers as Social Shopping Destinations
The next evolution of social shopping has come to be known as ‘community commerce’. Defined by TikTok as “creator-driven word-of-mouth marketing”, community commerce firmly connects the community, how it shops, and what entertains it. Community commerce can therefore be seen as a subset of social commerce.
What’s driving this trend? The authenticity with which the community connects is seen as a key differentiator for retailers. In fact, a recent study suggests that authenticity has a significant influence on perceived value and brand trust.
For retailers, that authenticity translates into genuine transparency that represents the brand’s identity, purpose, and values across all business touchpoints. Within this authenticity, consumers value individuality, consistency, and continuity of service, highlighting the need for reliability the consumer can ‘feel’.
Immersive, community-powered experiences heighten customer loyalty and affinity for purpose-driven brands. Therefore, retailers must stay true to who they really are as a business and build a real, lasting connection with their audience.
This may be easier said than done for those retailers who do not currently operate from a place of authenticity. The answer is not a quick fix, but rather a long-term commitment to sustainable business practices that reflect the true values of retailers’ loyal shoppers.
There are community commerce platforms like Circle, which allow its users to come together in groups organised by shared interests and values. Here, retailers can engage with their community members and build tailored experiences that include exclusive shopping events, early access to new products, and unique, personalised rewards for brand advocacy behaviours within this community.
For example, sustainable fashion label Riley Studio leverages their Circle community to connect consumers with exclusive VIP access in a way that fosters deeper relationships beyond transactions.
Retailers as Nurturing Innovators
Consumers are now more demanding of the retailers they support with their dollars and attention, and community engagement is a clear differentiator. Narrowly focusing on sales means retailers risk fading into the background.
In our crowded retail landscape, retailers must nurture, listen to, and grow with their customers as community members. Leaning into community initiatives rewards retailers with loyalty, word-of-mouth, and deeper customer insights to fuel innovation. Brands like Gymshark and Glossier, for instance, deliver an unrivalled competitive edge, both online and in-real-life, by leveraging their community.
The Benefits of Community-Centric Retail
In 2024 and beyond, community-building will be pivotal to any retailer’s successful strategy. Connected experiences and tangible caring are the new currency for consumers facing uncertainty.
Increasingly disillusioned by faceless corporations, consumers want to partner with retailers that feel authentic and relatable to them, those that have values that align with their own. Retailers who connect with the people beyond just the brand are thus more likely to resonate with this sentiment.
But the benefits of community-centric retail extend far beyond simply feeling good. Studies have shown that engaged customers are more likely to:
- Spend more: Customers are more likely to spend money with a retailer they feel connected to.
- Be loyal: They are more likely to be repeat customers who recommend the retailer to others with passion.
- Advocate: Advocates are always engaged, spreading the word about how the retailer and its values align with their own.
- Provide valuable feedback: Community engagement provides retailers with deep, valuable insight into their customers’ needs and wants.
Strategies for Retailers to Build Community-Centric Initiatives
So, how can retailers get started with building a community-centric approach? Use the key strategies from RDG’s V.A.L.U.E. model below to tap into this powerful trend in 2024 and beyond:
Conduct thorough research to identify community values and passions, and understand what matters most to their target audience:
- What social issues do they care about?
- What experiences would they value most?
Retailers should tailor their community initiatives to resonate with these priorities.
Offer customers authentic experiences, not just promotions. This means organising activities, events, and workshops that foster genuine connections and shared experiences. Retailers can partner with local businesses and organisations to create a vibrant community ecosystem.
Learn, Teach, Empower
Train staff to engage with customers on a personal level, advocate for community causes, and champion shared values. Empower your employees to become community ambassadors themselves, noting that active, authentic employee engagement with customers is a powerful way to boost trust and strengthen community bonds.
Use Your Voice
Retailers don’t always realise just how powerful their voice actually is. Online platforms where customers can connect, share experiences, and engage with retailers are a gold mine of not just insight and data, but real connection. Retailers can also leverage social media for community building initiatives to effectively amplify community voices and showcase their commitment to shared values.
Edit, Engage, Repeat
Retailers can track the impact of their community-centric initiatives by analysing brand sentiment, customer engagement, and sales data to understand what resonates and what needs refinement. This insight can be used to continuously adapt their approach, based on real insights and genuine customer feedback.
Real-World Examples of Customer-Centric Retailers
Several retailers around the globe and here at home are already successfully implementing community-centric initiatives. Here are a few examples to inspire and motivate:
- Brands and retailers like The Iconic and Kmart have leveraged their reputation as affordable, community-minded businesses during uncertain conditions, making customers feel valued and less anxious. Their ability to balance value and ethics has strengthened consumer loyalty.
- Tyro Payments’ social investments and local employment programs have boosted affinity among ethically-minded consumers and businesses.
- Oliver’s Real Food is a brand that focuses on local sourcing and sustainability to earn their customers’ loyalty.
- Country Road uses micro-influencers on Instagram to foster more-authentic community engagement, by collaborating with their everyday customers to highlight their positive role in shoppers’ lives.
- Patagonia, an outdoor clothing company, is well-known for its commitment to environmental activism, which they showcase by hosting regular clean-up events and visible support for like-minded environmental organisations that share their values and ethos.
- Lush is a cosmetics company that’s got a great reputation for its commitment to ethical sourcing and social responsibility. Consumers are welcome to join the staff instore for workshops on everything from making soap to body positivity.
- TOMS shoe company donates a pair of shoes to a child in need for every pair of shoes a customer buys. This simple yet powerful act of authentically giving back to a society in need has created a strong community of supporters.
The Future of Community-Centric Retail
As consumer preferences continue to evolve and reflect consumer values, community engagement is positioned to become an even more important factor in retail success than ever before. Retailers must create a sense of belonging in a way that builds trust, aligning their values with their customers’ to thrive in the years to come.
It’s the retailers and brands that connect deeply with their customers on a human level that will ultimately win their hearts and minds In this age of uncertainty.
If you’re not sure how your brand can tap into this trend, get in touch today.
Contact the Retail Doctor Group, a retail advisory and consulting practice that builds retail channels and increases the performance of retail and FMCG businesses through our customised & transformative ‘Business Fitness™’ methodologies.
Since 2005 we have partnered with our clients to build powerful, award-winning, sustainable, and “fit” implemented retail. Ensuring our clients consistently achieve above benchmarks, build sales and margin results. We stay with our clients to ensure success.
As the Australian elected member of International Retail Experts, Ebeltoft Group, we have more than 20 years of experience as retailers and consultants in all retail channels, segments and regions. Today, members of the Ebeltoft network advise 80 of the 100 largest retail companies in the world.
Want to know more about the Future of Retail and prepare your retail strategies? Schedule an appointment with our Insights division by e-mailing us at email@example.com or calling 02 9460 2882.