As the retail landscape evolves so dramatically, so have the relationships between brand and consumer. Traditionally, many brands operated with an extremely insular method developing their strategy, products and physical spaces internally and with little insight from the consumers who would be affected. However, recent years have highlighted an evolution in how brands curate their strategies. As they begin to acknowledge the validity, benefit and consequence of buyer opinion, brands are actively pursuing participation from their consumers.
This outward approach to building brand strategies includes a purposeful assessment of the surrounding culture; of a brand; inclusive of the consumer, the community and the way in which the brand can successfully integrate themselves into the environment – both physically and digitally.
Out of this engagement with culture, a more powerful and intuitive form of brand story was born. And not only have retailers initiated a deeper relevance and engagement, they have begun to secure cultural credibility amongst their consumers.
Let’s explore the four key trends which have impacted credibility in modern retail:
Fostering a community
Unlike e-commerce channels, physical retail will always face difficulties when attempting to conform to a one-size-fits-all model. With each new location, community and demographic, the physical store faces a new type of consumer with varying demands. For brands to thrive in this tumultuous market, they must foster a community around them, relinquishing some of their control to the consumer to curate omni-channel environments. This inclusion of consumers from the very beginning is the foundation for brands to authenticate their presence and grow organically with their surrounding community.
Of course, brands only build this authentic presence by supporting the community, not infiltrating it. When Nike opened their Nike by Melrose retail space, the concept store was built primarily for its local community of running and style obsessed LA consumers. The ‘by’ in the store name is not related purely to the location, it is also reflective of the fact that “the store was built by the people of Melrose” – as localisation data determines the constantly rotating product stock in-store. Local NikePlus members reap further rewards as the app controls item visibility, selection and collection for consumers. Based on an understanding of its neighbourhood and culture, the ‘live’ store communicates with local residents - particularly those who engage digitally - in order to curate a hyper-localised retail space.
Creating non-traditional experiences
We’ve witnessed numerous articles dictating the ‘death of retail’ with predictions that e-commerce will far outweigh the relevance of brick-and-mortar. In actually, this so-called death has only affected those retailers whom have become homogenous and tedious, unwilling to adapt to the demands of the modern shopper. In an era where brands are so deeply integrated into everyday lifestyles, consumers demand so much more than a transaction; they crave a point of difference, a non-traditional form of entertainment.
American brand Casper are no strangers to subverting the norm and their recent pilot store, The Dreamery, is the perfect example of a non-traditional experience. Whilst predominantly an e-retailer, the brand opened their concept store not to sell mattresses but to sell sleep. Each nap pod does feature a Casper mattress and thus market the brand, and yet, the physical space concentrates far more on amplifying the consumer experience. More than a quirky offer to nap somewhere outside of the home, this communication of rest and recharge is reflective of modern societies’ hectic lives which have little room for personal recuperation. From Casper’s NYC Dreamery to Pop&Rest – London’s answer to disconnection from the outside world – this concept of subverting the traditional retail space with the inclusion of human experiences is pivotal to building credibility.
Speaking to, not through
Building cultural credibility is not easy, it is incredibly ambiguous, and no brand or retailer can attest to the perfect ‘answer’. However, in an era where consumers are increasingly perceptive and refute any marketing which speaks through them, there is incredible value in the art of authenticity. Brands born out of not only substance, but a familiarity with consumers and a solid grasp of consumer demands are those which stand out amongst the rest. This authenticity is rooted in the concept of storytelling, creating emotionally powerful stories which resonate with the consumer far above any form of transactional promotion.
Never has this transparency and authenticity been more relevant than in the world of beauty retail. An overly-saturated market with numerous retails vying for attention, the beauty industry continuously strives to tap into the culture of its beauty hunters. A brand spawned from authenticity is lifestyle beauty retailer, Glossier. With modern, sleek and millennial driven packaging and messaging, the brand thwart the traditional unattainability of many beauty brands. However, most importantly, the Glossier brand was built upon the success of Instagram – its dramatic outreach and followers. This format allows the brand to continuously facilitate the beauty conversations which take place via this platform, invite avid beauty seekers to get involved in product development and empower women to become part of the Glossier story.
Opting for co-creation
When considering the value of consumer opinion, many retailers have opted towards a new-age concept of co-creation. Disrupting traditions of an insular retail method, co-creation focuses on a consumer contributing to the outcome of a brand experience or product. Passive forms of this trend include voting on products through social media channels or attending branded events; both examples highlighting a more casual or even spontaneous method of co-creation. However, active participations, such as product or experiential designs, require far more effort on the behalf of the consumer, reaping larger rewards and making a noticeable difference to the outcome.
A notable example of co-creation in retail is Away to Mars, an online platform defined as “100% user-created”. Founded in 2015, the brand have built a collaborative community of thinkers who submit their fashion designs for consideration. As a platform for authors, designers and consumers, Away to Mars offer the designers a chance to become part of a permanent collection if their designs are well received and invested in. The polar opposite to the traditional insular method, brands such as Away to Mars define cultural credibility in modern retail; allowing their brand and product success to be heavily influenced by consumer identities.
As individuals crave authenticity from every aspect of their lives, brands and retailers are not exempt from this demand for realism. In modern day, the importance lies in building credibility amongst followers and consumers, including the realignment of strategies to incorporate active participation from these individuals. From the physical experience which exceeds the transactional through to the contribution of ideas for brand and products, an outward approach to building brand strategies ensures credibility, engagement and loyalty.