It certainly depends on the type of business they’re in, but in the brick and mortar world, some stores do become hangouts. These are the businesses that tend to take off while their competitors languish, simply because of the traffic, the enthusiasm of their customers and the referrals they generate.
Perhaps dry cleaners don’t become hangouts very often, but coffee shops and bookstores often do. Plumbing supply, auto parts and electrical supply stores also may become hangouts, if only among plumbers, electricians and hotrodders.
There are many reasons that a brick and mortar store becomes a hangout. Clearly, one factor is the type of product they sell. But even among coffee shops and auto parts stores, some are much more successful than others. With on-line stores, there is also a vast difference in hang-out behavior, with significantly more time spent on some sites than others with similar products and comparable prices. In fact, stores that become hangouts often command higher prices.
The success of a brick and mortar store in getting customers to spend time there is partly a function of store layout. Large open spaces and an inviting layout may be conducive to conversation between customers, while a tight layout without open space may not be. Product displays that are interesting and inviting may also encourage people to spend more time in the store.
The owner of an on-line store has the same options available. Your store can provide open layouts, easy to use navigation and search tools, as well as interesting and informative merchandising of products. In addition, there are tools available that go far beyond those available in a physical store.
For example, two customers in a brick and mortar store need to be present at the same time in order to have a conversation. On-line, this is not necessarily the case. If your website uses a content publishing and blogging platform such as WordPress or Drupal to provide product reviews or discussion threads, customers can converse even if their visits are days or months apart. This will open up a whole new level of opportunity to interact that would be impossible in a traditional store. The more your customers interact, the more your store becomes a hangout and a destination.
In addition to user generated content and conversation, you can add your own. If you are knowledgeable about your business (and I’m sure you are) and have some basic writing skills, you can publish articles that engage your customers and help them educate themselves, and in the process you can earn their loyalty.
Even more significant, this allows you to set the agenda and guide customers to your way of thinking. This is a rare opportunity to dispel myths, and help customers understand how products and services in your category work. You can help them understand the true value proposition your products offer, as well as the differences between suppliers and brands, and how it can impact them.