I took part in a debate at Imperial College’s ThinkSpace in London last week with the BBC’s Chief R&D Scientist, Brandon Butterworth, and podcaster, Neville Hobson. We were asked whether digital media is destroying retailers or could be it’s salvation.
There’s no doubt that Amazon, iTunes and eBay have taken a large chunk out of the highs street, but I prefer to look on the bright side. I think we’re on the brink of something new and fascinating in the world of shopping. Top Shop’s ‘model cams‘ – cameras attached to models to give buyers a model’s-eye view of London fashion show – and their hook-up with Google+ were just the latest in a series of smart integrations.
With 40% of consumers more likely to buy a product if a friend has recommended it via a social network, I think the opportunity is self-evident.
But there’s also another revolution happening much closer to home. In the debate I mentioned my local cafe, which is, frankly, in the middle of nowhere and, by rights, ought to have lasted about 10 minutes in the current business climate. Thankfully, it’s a great cafe, and luckily, it’s owners understand the power of social media at a local level to drive more custom.
This isn’t about numbers. They have fewer than 200 fans on Facebook, but their latest post – about selling local honey – got 23 Likes, meaning it was ‘recommended’ to hundreds of people in my neighbourhood. That’s highly targeted, nearly free, advertising – and it’s available on tap.
Another point I made in the discussion combines the thinking behind Top Shop’s activities and my local cafe: it’s about building a community around your business. For brands, this is usually a virtual community, using Facebook, Google+, YouTube, Twitter etc. that they can engage with and involve in their products – with co-creation being the ultimate sharing experience.
Local businesses, though, have a much more powerful weapon in the retail battle for our attention: genuine community. By providing a place to meet, supporting local products, hosting local events and responding to local needs – local businesses can take co-creation to it’s ultimate destination, co-ownership, or at least a sense of it.
I gave a talk at Moo.com‘s pop-up shop in Shoreditch a few months’ ago. It was part of a series of free talks they were offering for local businesses and entrepreneurs. It was live streamed with a back channel discussion on Twitter. Everyone enjoyed it and we all felt a closer to Moo.com as a result.
By using social and local, hand-in-hand, plus a little innovation, retail businesses should be able to thrive. Watch the video and see if you agree. I’d welcome your comments.