Published on: November 12, 2019
by Michael Sansolo
If there’s a common theme that runs through MNB, it’s our belief that creativity in addressing all manner of consumer needs is the path to success. (That and our reliance of the wisdom of "Star Trek," of course.)
With that in mind it’s time we consider a growing societal problem that stores are actually incredibly well positioned to address and might find as a fabulous competitive weapon for the new age.
As if we didn’t have enough societal ills to confront - opioids, obesity or political polarization are just the beginning - we are increasingly facing a new one. Despite (or maybe because of) the fact that we are living in the age of social media with endless lists of friends whom we barely know, loneliness is increasingly recognized as a major societal ill. The Health Resources and Services Administration recently reported that loneliness is as harmful as smoking 15 cigarettes daily and that 40 percent of Americans say their social relationships lack meaning and 20 percent feel socially isolated.
The problem spreads across demographics from the young (who are less likely than ever to marry) to the elderly. Those numbers may explain why a Google search for “loneliness epidemic” turns up nearly 3 million results.
But whenever there is a problem, there is an opportunity to solve it and that’s the business hook - because it means that customer connections can loom larger than ever.
We know that shoppers are able to avoid stores by getting everything they need on line, whenever and wherever they want it. In many ways, this could be contributing to the loneliness epidemic. And it is why retailers need to think about giving people a reason to come into their stores and finding ways to create valuable and enduring connections.
We talk a lot about the need to put some experience into the everyday, whether it’s the food piazza style of a Wegmans, Whole Foods or Dorothy Lane Market, the joyous style of a Stew Leonard’s or Jungle Jim’s or the focus on fresh of countless other retailers and farmer’s markets. These are just some examples of retailers who go above and beyond to connect with their shoppers; not everybody can do what they do, but that leaves a lot of room to maker connections.
It may require some additional training of staff to ensure they all understand the incredible impact a kind word and connection can make in every shopper’s day. We’re not talking rocket science or billion dollar investments. We’re talking the impact of saying “hello,” “thanks” and many other simple phrases.
I remember some 30 years ago, when we Boomers were tiring of the dating scene, supermarkets suddenly became the cool place to meet other singles. Singles’ shopping events became so popular they were widely covered in all media (including Cosmopolitan magazine, if I recall correctly) and, some of those same promotions can be found taking place today.
Perhaps it’s time for more creative attempts to build community events around shopping, recipes, cooking, eating and conversation. Doing so might drag even the most reluctant shopper away from that Amazon Echo and back into a store if it provides some moments of happiness and connection.
That might lead to sales and profits, which will make another group very happy.
Michael Sansolo can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org . His book, “THE BIG PICTURE: Essential Business Lessons From The Movies,” co-authored with Kevin Coupe, is available on Amazon by clicking here. And, his book "Business Rules!" is available from Amazon by clicking here.
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