The phenomenon of consumer tribes has been studied for decades, and retailers have been advised to welcome consumer tribes as a way to build business at their stores. Holding special events just for favored customers and encouraging group shopping were among the methods for nourishing consumer tribes.
More recently, research findings from University of Arizona and Canada’s Queens University indicate that the nature of consumer tribes has changed over the years. Based on the findings, here’s my shopper psychology advice to you:
- Historically, consumer tribes have been more exclusive than inclusive. A source of the members’ emotional devotion was a conviction that they were distinctive. But in recent years, consumer tribes have shown interest in expanding their membership. The Arizona/Queens researchers analyzed trends in the community of long-distance runners. Thirty years ago, this community was male-dominated and maintained challenging physical stamina standards for admission. These days, mentoring and leadership diversity are valued. This is helpful to you. The larger and more wide-ranging the membership, the greater the cumulative influence of passionate recruiters for shopping with you. My advice: Put more emphasis on encouraging fans to invite others in than on you creating a sense of entitlement for tribe members.
- A downside of consumer tribes has been that they resist changes in your business which are useful for full profitability. In many cases, the tribe members structure significant parts of their lifestyle around the store’s characteristics, so when the retailer executes changes, the effects on the tribe are more than trivial. In my experience, the valuing of diversity has resulted in more tolerance for changes. However, I still advise that you give plenty advance notice to the consumer tribe, invite their ideas without yielding your prerogatives, and unroll changes rather than impose changes all at once.
- Historically, a substantial part of the consumer tribe’s social interactions would be conducted outside your presence at their own gatherings. This limited your influence with the tribe somewhat. Now social networking is frequently a medium for exchange among the tribe members. This lets you tune in. Use the opportunity. This isn’t a replacement for special events, though, in which you express your gratitude to your tribe.
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