Never underestimate the power of communities, particularly in today’s retail landscape. In an age when shoppers can buy what they need with a click or tap of a button, brick-and-mortar retailers need to work extra hard to drive foot traffic and engage consumers.
One of the best ways to do this is to cultivate human relationships through community-building and events. When implemented correctly, in-store events and activities give people a compelling reason to head to your store. And if you play your cards right, those visits could lead to higher brand awareness, customer loyalty, and ultimately, more sales.
So, what kinds of events should you run? Like with most questions, the answer to that is it depends. A number of factors will come into play when deciding what type of event to set up and how to do it.
Shared interests – What are the common hobbies or activities that your customers like to engage in? What do they want to learn about? Identifying these things will help you figure out the theme and structure of your event.
Location – Are your audiences centered in specific locales or are they spread out? If everyone lives in a particular area — say your store’s neighborhood — then it makes sense to hold it in your location. If not, then you can work on finding another venue or implementing a virtual event.
Demographics – Which age groups do your customers fall into? What’s their profession, income, educational level, gender, etc? The answers to these questions will help you decide on the nature of your event.
It also helps to get inspiration from retailers that are doing an excellent job with their events. Here are a few to get you started:
1. Hold a class
Quench your customers’ thirst for knowledge by holding classes so they can pick up new knowledge and skills. It’s a great way to bring people together in your store, and depending on the class, you can even use it as an opportunity to showcase what your products can do.
If you’re a winery, for example, you can hold wine tasting classes in your store. Running a craft store? Throw in some DIY classes in your events calendar.
Sephora is a master at in-store classes. The cosmetics retailer regularly holds various makeup classes in many of its locations. Topics vary from makeup techniques to skincare, and more.
The classes are extremely high-touch. The instructors and in-store associate handpick products based on each student’s skin type and needs, and everyone gets their own makeup station where they can apply products. There’s absolutely no pressure to purchase the products that you used in the class, so the atmosphere is really comfortable.
Once the class is done, the associates distribute product samples and send people on their way.
Sephora also has a great follow-up practice. A few days after the class they email you a note from your instructors, along with an invitation to purchase the products you used in the class.
2. Put together a runway show
This even type works best for apparel and accessories. If you’re bringing in fresh merchandise or launching a new product line, why not hold a runway show to showcase your items?
Bring in some models or better yet, ask your customers to participate. That’s what Justice, an apparel store for girls and tweens did last year. In honor of the back-to-school season in 2018, Justice ran fashion shows in several of its stores, giving girls the opportunity to strut their stuff while sporting their back-to-school looks.
Running a similar event could work well for you, too. The next time you want to showcase your new or seasonal items, consider letting your customers model those outfits for your brand.
3. Celebrate a product launch with a sale and in-store services
Another cool way to unveil a new product or partnership is to celebrate its launch — literally. Pop some champagne, decorate your store, and get in a festive mood. You can even hold a sale while you’re at it!
Birchbox’s SoHo location did just that in January of 2018 when they launched VERB Haircare. They held free hairstyling sessions in-store, ran a promotion, and served drinks to guests.
This is a great initiative if you’re looking to showcase new products that can’t really be modeled on the runway. If you’re selling these types of products, show them off through services and samples in-store.
4. Hold offsite events
Retail events don’t always have to take place inside your store. If you have a lot of people attending or if you’re in the sports and outdoors niche, then it makes more sense to promote activities outside your location.
Pace Athletic, an Aussie retailer specializing in running footwear and gear, does a great job at this. Pace created the “Pace Run Club,” where members go out together and participate in running events in different parts of Australia.
In addition to strengthening their community, these events also fueled the growth of their business. “Pace Run Clubs are moving advertisements for our brand,” said Will Hatton, the co-owner of Pace Athletic.
Will said that he and co-founder invested in professional photography during these events, and doing so improved their growth even more. The professional photos also gave Will and Stuart high-quality content for Facebook and Instagram, which increased social media engagement.
“We find that folks tag themselves and reshare our photos a lot more after we started doing professional photography,” said Will. “As our social media numbers trended up, we also saw more folks joining our weekly runs which was great!”
One of the best takeaways from Pace Athletic’s story is that community-centric activities and events can also help your marketing. So if you’re looking for ways to bring people together — while putting your brand out there at the same time — running the right event could help you achieve that goal.
5. Set up a “pop-in” shop
If you have a large store, then having temporary “pop-in” shops could spruce up your location. Think of them as pop-up events, but ones that take place inside your store.
You could come up with a specific theme and create your pop-in shop (or “store within a store”) in your location. For best results, partner with another brand or vendor to make it happen.
That was the case with swimwear brand Segara. Last year, Segara partnered with Cuyana, a California-based retailer that sells women’s essentials, to hold pop-in events in their location.
See if you can do something similar. If you’re looking to spice things in your store, find a brand that aligns with your values, put together a pop-in event, and co-market it for maximum impact.
6. Invite an expert
Educational events don’t always have to take the form of classes. Expert talks and commentaries can also do the trick. If you’re connected to experts or influencers in your niche, invite them to share their knowledge with your community.
Travel and lifestyle brand Away implemented this recently when they brought in experts in their stores to talk about ancient divination practices.
What about you? Who can you invite to speak to your community? Connect with them and invite them to your store.
7. Hold a meet-and-greet
If you have relationships with the authors, artists, or designers behind your merchandise, try getting them into your location for a meet-and-greet. This works particularly when they’re launching a new product — i.e., book, fashion line, project etc. Get in though with that author or artist (or their publicist) and see if they’d be willing to come in.
For example, when Liane Moriarty published her book, Nine Perfect Strangers, in 2018, she went on a book tour where she headed to various bookstores to talk about her new book and sign copies.
You could also use meet-and-greets (or almost any event type, for that matter) as perks for your best customers.
For example, when Saks Fifth Avenue ran its Saks IT List Townhouse for New York Fashion Week, they had a special meet-and-greet opportunity with Harper’s Bazaar editor in chief Glenda Bailey and fashion designer Jeremy Scott.
The opportunity was extended exclusively to American Express platinum cardholders and SaksFirst card members, so it also serves as a way for Saks to reward its cardholders (and those of American Express).
Retail events are here to stay
The practice of holding retail events isn’t a passing trend. Retail events have been around for a long time, and we’re willing to bet that they will outlast some of the hot tech trends we see today.
That’s because people will always have a need for human connections, and the brands that can step up and fulfill that desire will thrive.