Welcome Home: What Retail Can Learn From An Event That Involves No Retail At All

By Natalie Haynes, Contributor

Each year, in a remote area of the Nevada desert, for a week there is an event called Burningman that attracts around eighty thousand people who endure the extreme conditions of the desert in order to enjoy the art, music, creativity, and general feeling of acceptance of whatever and whomever someone wants to be.

A common greeting there is “Welcome home!” This begs the question: What exactly is it about that experience that makes people feel at home?

First, no money is exchanged there, so one must come prepared to fully take care of oneself (a tenant called “radical self-reliance”), but there is also an expectation that people take care of each other, which inevitably leads to making connections, often with total strangers. There is a powerful bond in exchanging kindesses, however small. It is also powerful to be vulnerable enough to ask for help. There is comfort in being surrounded by a community of reciprocal support, acceptance, and connection. This is clearly missing in our society for a lot of people.

A search on “social connection” with Metametrix affirms that helping others plays a significant role in connection, and it is also related to leading and strength.

Retailers can and are tapping into this need and the better ones are creatively finding ways to make connections with their customers. Extending even the smallest kindness can create loyalty, because you’re creating a relationship, not a transaction.

With the ever-increasing amount of data available and insights tools available to quickly hone in on current trends, it’s easier than ever to understand what people want, need, and appreciate. Ask them. Use surveys. Look at their behavior and words on social media, customer reviews, etc. Give them ways to connect in any way, with the brand, with customer service, with the product, with each other.

Case In Point

A search on “connecting with customers” with Metametrix brought up an article about how Ikea is leveraging customer interactions with their website to create a connection with their brand. IKEA has a vested interest in understanding consumer feelings about “home”. Their 2018 consumer report indicates that 29% of people don’t feel at home where they live.

We move more frequently and further than previous generations did, which feeds this disconnect from “home” and “…which makes inexpensive and disposable furniture a necessity… “home” has become less permanent and more transient than ever”. It’s understandable that increasingly people don’t feel at home in the place they physically live.

IKEA has tapped into these feelings by creating a short series of questions to generate a profile around five core needs for feeling at home. They then create a personalized “manifesto”.

Example of IKEA’s personalized profile:

IKEA.com Life At Home

Its an interesting dichotomy that we need to be alone more but also want more connection and community. IKEA is clearly recognizing that. They have provided an interaction with their customers that doesn’t focus on selling, but instead addresses their customers’ emotional needs. As a business, they have found a way to listen and connect first. “Welcome home.”

A Metametrix search on “business connection with customers” identified many articles on this topic including one from the Harvard Business Review that gives concrete examples where emotional connection is highly valuable to business and explains core drivers. An excerpt:

“In our work with a major apparel retailer we found that among customers’ key emotional motivators were their desire to feel a sense of belonging, be thrilled by the shopping experience, and have a sense of freedom and independence.”

Burningman is doing something right. They’re tapping into all of these needs.

What This Means For Business

“Emotionally connected customers not only generate greater value, but in every interaction become more and more convinced that ‘this company gets me.’ ”

This company gets me. Someone gets me.

The retail world has so much data and opportunity to listen, understand, and connect. For years consumer insights professionals have looked at Overall Satisfaction Scores and Net Promoter Scores, but we may want to rethink this and look at Emotional Connection Scores too. We may need a “Welcome Home” score.