Stores need to create a sense of belonging for customers
Through a special arrangement, what follows is an excerpt of an article from Drug Store News.
As my son and I visited colleges over the past year, it occurred to me that the process he was going through was not dissimilar to how consumers may approach the selection of their preferred retail setting.
For my son, the wish list around his desired university was deeply contemplated. The checklist included a highly specific blend of academic desires, class size, teaching staff credentials, student population and demographics, distance from home, physical location parameters, social activities available, sport opportunities, and more. (Of course, financial metrics and graduation rates were very high on my list!)
Similarly, shoppers are creating their own wish list of sorts. Not unlike selecting a university, there are countless options, each with pros and cons. Rather than academic offerings, shoppers desire to align with services or niche products. They look at the friendliness of the staff and their knowledge and accessibility. Consideration may be given to the types of customers that the store caters to. Certainly distance, physical location, and "extras" are all part of the equation and hold weight toward the final decision. And customers also make their decision based on financial metrics: value.
When I made my college choice, I had a very short list of universities, referred to some outdated printed information, and physically visited the handful I was considering. For my son, the search began on the internet. Researching campuses online and virtually touring each became a nightly routine. Comparing it to his list of criteria, my son must have "visited" well over 150 possibilities.
Why shouldn’t today’s shoppers have the same opportunity? I’ve yet to see a retail website provide a virtual walk-through and easy-to-digest facts about the operation that would permit a potential customer to get acquainted before their physical visit. But paramount in this approach would be assurance that the online world mirrored the in-person experience.
Narrowing the field of eight was an interesting process as the intangibles became far more important. I believe the same is true of the decision made by shoppers. After all, there were positives about every school that my son was considering and I believe that each would have delivered an education that met his expectations. Similarly, product assortment, prices and other tangibles offer few differences among retailers. The real uniqueness stems from the softer side of the operation and the intangibles.
For Harrison, my son, it was a "sense of belonging." When he could effectively and confidently place himself at the university he ultimately selected, he simply knew that it was right. Stores should likewise strive to deliver the right combination of tangible and intangible factors so their customers have a true sense of belonging.
What’s the key to creating a “sense of belonging” for shoppers at retail? What lessons does today’s university selection process offer for stores?