Offline Community

In 2006, I told the CEO of a major grocery chain that he should consider having a large space in the stores dedicated to customer service and events. He told me I didn’t understand his business, and that every square inch of the store needed to be stocked with product—to maximize revenue per square foot.

I’m not a grocery expert, so I backed off.

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Fast forward to 2009… my recent trip to London. Here’s a photo of the inside of one of the most successful retail stores in London.

Of course, it’s an Apple store, but it certainly looks more like a hotel lobby. As my good friend and colleague Jeffery Rayport reminded me a few weeks ago—at a minimum, this is not a retailer that maximizes revenue per square foot by filling its space chock-full of product. All of the pundits have compared Apple’s numbers to several competitors, but the numbers do underscore the power of community and its ability to shape the buying experience: you can increase revenue per square foot by getting your customers and their friends to fill your retail space—instead of walking sideways down the aisles, worried about knocking over stacks of products. Right in the above photo, taken randomly from my blackberry, we see all of the new buzzwords: word-of-mouth marketing, ratings-and-reviews, and more. And, if you look at the photo below, we see true engagement.

I’ve shown these photos to many people at Communispace. It helps to create for us a picture of what is hopefully going on in our own communities. Surely, we are increasing peoples’ “purchase intent” or their “customer loyalty” or their NPS score, but hopefully we are also creating much more than that: a meeting place that transforms the relationship that companies have with their customers.