“Club of Knowledge Hunters”

Customer Communities Are a Form of Retail Therapy for Consumers and Firms, a Study Suggests

Posted by superstar23 on November 4, 2008

Research shows that customers can receive up to six different types of therapeutic types of social support from friendships that they form with other customers in places such as video arcades, gym, and health clubs.

By participating in retail customer communities, consumers receive social support from other people, which improves their sense of well-being and of belonging in the world. This means that consumers may remedy feelings associated with depression, stress, and loneliness by forming friendships with other customers in retail environments.

Firms also benefit from a “return on community” as customers who form friendships in an establishment tend to be satisfied, loyal, and more willing to pay higher prices for a firm’s products and services.

“People do not have to depend solely on their spouses, partners, or co-workers for support. In fact, this strategy is often disastrous for people in the long run. People can also obtain the same social support from retail friendships and have multiple support sources,” says Mark Rosenbaum, marketing professor and author of the findings in the November issue of Journal of Service Research.

The findings come from studies conducted at a video arcade that caters to teenagers, at Gold’s Gym, and at Curves. “Regardless of whether consumers are teenagers, younger-aged men, or middle-aged women, the data reveals that customers, who participate in customer communities with other customers, realize health benefits,” states Rosenbaum.

Service establishments also realize lucrative returns from hosting customer communities as customers who obtain support in an establishment are more likely than others to display higher levels of commitment to the firm, including promoting the firm via word-of-mouth and remaining loyal despite price increases.

“Firms need to realize that customers perceive tremendous value in commercial friendships. In fact, customer friendships may be considered as a type of glue that attaches a customer to a retail organization. Therefore, the origins of an intense customer loyalty may reside not in outstanding products or services, but rather, in a firm’s ability to create an environment in which customers can obtain therapeutic social support from other customers and employees,” says Rosenbaum.

Although many Americans used to obtain social support from other people by participating in social communities that formed in not-for-profit and civic organizations, many people today may be turning to others in commercial environments for social support.

“Given the rougher economic climate, retail and service firms should consider how they can promote in-house customer communities. As Americans also experience stress associated with the economy, they are going to look to places that can offer them some type of mental rejuvenation. By encouraging customer friendships, firms may be able to obtain a positive return on customer community that helps them through the current economic downturn,” states Rosenbaum.


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