Social media is not about the exploitation of technology but service to community.

– Simon Mainwaring

Plenty has been said about change in the retail sector, and yet the narrative speaks predominately about change in a lineal sense. And indeed, the creation of channels (fuelled by the emergence of technology) and movement of products from A to B faster, cheaper, better and more personally is the way in which retailing has changed most significantly to date.

But this concept of lineal activity is relevant only if you accept that consumers hear about your retail brand in a lineal manner to begin with. An example of this could be something like reading a catalogue and purchasing directly from the retailer involved.

Sure, that happens, but the reality of retailing, and especially physical shop retailing, is that every omnichannel retailer (and there can no longer be any other type) has a myriad of brand touchpoints to reach the omnichannel customer.

Do you remember, as a child, looking through a kaleidoscope and seeing all the rotating images cascading within the illuminated ecosystem? That is a fitting symbol of the consumer journey today, and it will become even more so.

Here are a few examples of how consumer activity has accelerated to a level you could never have imagined five years ago:

  • We are now averaging four hours per day on our smartphones.
  • Google now processes on average more than 40,000 search queries every second, which translates to over 3.5 billion searches per day and 1.2 trillion searches per year worldwide.
  • We are watching over four million YouTube videos globally every minute.
  • Over 100 voice-enabled Amazon AI devices are delivered in that same minute.
  • Over five billion parcels were delivered through Amazon Prime in the US in 2018.

I could regale you with many more stats that all point to one overwhelming fact: That technology has created the kaleidoscopic customer now and into the future.

So, how do you cut through to develop real consumer stickiness and community? The key is to link all the parts of this kaleidoscopic activity to a simple binding story based on the uniqueness and relevance of your offer.

The consumer/retailer journey now has three very distinct and interrelated aspects that equate to consumption and loyalty.

1. Firstly, the pre-engagement stage: Engagement with your brand generally commences well before the physical shop or product appears. Nominally, your advertising – including online, referral, TV, radio and print (declining) and social media, which is rapidly increasing in its influence and ability to transact – is the first touchpoint. This is the beginning of the vital “community” building stage.

Increasingly, we see the influence of a social media referral and resultant consumer action.

For example:

  • 74.7 per cent of US internet users were forecast to use social networks in 2018, with the time spent among adult users averaging 1 hour and 15 minutes per day.
  • In a 2017 PwC global report, online buyers cited social networks as the digital media most used for purchase inspiration.
  • New iterations of social commerce continue to evolve. Retail-friendly ad products and features from the major social platforms are constantly being introduced, influencer marketing is still a popular tactic, and visual commerce, including video, is becoming more influential on purchase behavior.

Put simply, retailers with purpose, a story to tell and uniqueness in their offer tend to engage in this hemisphere particularly well.

Online searches are crucial brand statements as well, with somewhere between 1 per cent to 5 per cent of searches converting to purchase. Online is most effective in an omnichannel context showcasing all the ways the customer can buy into this retail community and to build on the convenience/last-mile scenario

2. Secondly, the physical shop stage: Here, we use the space to build on the pre-engagement search, to educate and to inspire. It’s where 90 per cent of all shopping is done. It’s the consummation of the pre-engagement stage where it’s all about wow-ing the customer – think service, offer and fit-out to illustrate your point of difference and your “story”. Physical shop retailing is and will be the centrepiece of the human experience. It’s the jewel in the crown.

3. Thirdly, the “joining the dots” stage: How many retailers are actively engaging with customers and effectively bringing them into the pre-engagement phase? In other words, are you building a community of loyalists, or brand advocates, who you are regularly communicating to and providing knowledge and expertise to through all the channels? Or simply asking, would you like to join our database?

There is no community building here, rather transactional deals done with margin as the sticking point.