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Are communities the future of retail?

Click. Click… Click. Confirm. There you go, you did some great shopping and tomorrow your order will be delivered. Handy. But did you enjoy it? More and more companies don’t think you did and are creating communities where their customers feel at home.

Online shopping means ordering those cute shoes or an interesting book while being curled up on the couch and having your order ready the very next day. Almost literally three clicks and done, that was your shopping experience. Why would anyone go to a store, when you can buy practically anything online without lifting a foot, except for when you forgot your iPad’s charging in the other room?

Online shopping lacks one thing, though: it’s not the real deal. You surf, you scroll, you click, you pay and the order is placed into your hands the next day. There you go, thank you, have a nice day. But: also real shops often lack the extra experience. That is why we see communities emerge in retail: companies create a network of people around them – online, but also physical – where they focus on more than just sales and also offer advice, extra services, unique expertise, … “That sense of community is something that the bigger (online) companies aren’t offering yet and where the smaller companies can make the difference.”

Pets and owners

Speaking: Rudi De Kerpel, founder of Eurotuin – a franchise of garden centers in East and West-Flanders. At first, his stores focused on garden material, but due to the demand – and because it sells all year through  - Eurotuin started offering material for pets. That was the first step of one of the communities he was about to create.

Despite the fact that Eurotuin has its own webshop, De Kerpel wanted to boost the offline experience. That is why ‘WelloPet’ came into existence: a real wellness space where people can visit the veterinarian, have their dog groomed, … and take a break themselves. “At WelloPet, we take care of the pet and the owner”, De Kerpel states.

Furthermore, his company participates in ‘’, which he calls ‘the Facebook for gardeners’ and a strategical choice for the future. The platform is used to share pictures, tips or ask questions. “This way we can bring together people with the same hobby and interests, and we can present them our products”, De Kerpel says. “The community even crosses borders. Our Dutch website attracts both Belgian and Dutch visitors, while our French website attracts more French than Belgian visitors.”


Other players in the retail business are following this trend to bind people to their brand. For example the Dutch supermarket chain, Albert Heijn, started a new online community a while ago where people can look for recipes, ask for help or just let Albert Heijn know what they think is missing in the assortment.

Another strategy is refurbishing the store itself to a ‘place of experience’: imagine a clothing store that also houses a library and a small coffee shop where people can catch their breath after shopping, read a book or just make a photo for Instagram.


These communities, where shops and companies do more than just sell stuff and offer their clients advice, need employees with a specific set of skills. For example: knowledge of the latest trends and tools or of a specialty will become increasingly important to employers when looking for new employees.

Hays is keeping an eye on this evolution to be able to anticipate changes and to match the needs of the clients. Furthermore: not only technical skills, but also soft skills will become increasingly important. When the experience becomes more intense to the customers, their involvement increases too. They start caring. This means employees will have to step up their game, if they want to cope with more demanding customers, while still keeping a professional attitude.

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