The past decade has seen our society become increasingly dependent on digital platforms and technology to connect with one another. This created a counter trend in which consumers sought real, meaningful and emotional connections to happen offline, in the real world – something we explored last year in our Better Together trend.
However, times are changing. Despite the negative association with technology worrying many of us, factors such as the rise of Gen Z (digital natives), are leading us to take a more open-ended, all embracing approach to online and offline relationships.
We are taking the best of technology and the best of ‘real’ life to form tribes with like-minded people we have never been able to access before. These new tribes offer a safe space, acceptance, and opportunities to explore new ideas. These dynamic and often niche communities are no less valid than what’s come before, and ultimately serve our fundamental human need for social connections. What’s changed is the context in which they are happening.
In this article, we explore this new trend we are calling Secure Together, and why it’s a significant untapped opportunity for retail brands.
While technology and the internet have made the world a smaller place, and facilitated connections between people, studies also show they impact society in a harmful way. In the UK, a worryingly high number of children are feeling isolated as a result of comparing themselves to others on social media, and loneliness is becoming so prominent that the UK government recently appointed its first minister of loneliness.
Against this backdrop, consumers are interested in finding new groups of people of similar mindsets. Our research shows that 64% of the UK population agree that they “want to make new connections with different people who share my specific interests and values”.
Our data shows Secure Together is currently a Nascent trend – meaning it is in the early stages of its adoption. Interestingly, while 64% identify with the need outlined above, overall, only 45% are currently acting on this desire. This gap between attitude and behavioural adoption represents a real opportunity for brands to stay ahead of the curve by helping consumers to act on their need for new connections.
The generation most engaged with this trend are Gen Z, with 85% of them agreeing with the need and 64% agreeing they are using technology to find new groups just like them. However, it’s not limited to younger generations, with half of Baby Boomers also looking for a chance to forge new connections.
For many of us, the ‘future of retail’ conjures up an image of seamless interactions controlled by drones, artificial intelligence and smart speakers. However, this vision fails to cater for our wider human needs that go beyond our demand for convenience. It also ignores the fact that shopping is a fundamentally social activity. From the bazaar to the souk, for millennia the market has been at the centre of cultural and social exchanges.
At a time rife with loneliness and social isolation, our basic need for human contact is more important than ever. As retailers continue to focus on delivering a seamless, integrated retail experience, those ahead of the curve are turning their attention to taking the best of digital and physical to facilitate human connection.
A selection of leading-edge retail brands have spotted an opportunity to solve these two problems together by using social media and technology to create spaces for their customers to foster connections and explore new ideas, all around their product or service.
This goes beyond creating social media pages or forums – this is about creating meaningful connections that otherwise would not have existed.
An excellent example is Bumble. Beginning its journey as a dating app aimed at empowering women to ‘make the first move’, Bumble’s philosophy is about fostering healthy relationships to help you build a positive, productive life. The team recognise the power of combining access to digital communities with ‘IRL’ (in real life) interactions. Each of their core products (Bumble Date, Bizz and BFF) begin with an online connection and then offer the chance to meet in person at one of Bumbles physical spaces. Beyond this, Bumble also sponsor free creative workshops across the world.
Brands targeted at Gen Z are unsurprisingly early adopters of this trend, as they know their audience are avid social users, and that ‘dark social’ is a primary source of brand recommendations. Sneakhers is an online community of female sneaker fans. On a more meaningful level, Sneakhers empowers women to have a voice in the male dominate sneaker world and has created a secure environment for women to express themselves. Similarly, The Phluid Project is New York’s first gender neutral shopping space. As well as buying clothes, members can engage in conversations with like-minded people in a non-judgemental space.
While these kinds of communities naturally lend themselves to minority needs, brands also have an opportunity to create new connections for the majority. The men’s gentleman club for example feels outdated, however, in the context of increased conversations around male mental health, there could be an opportunity to facilitate positive conversations in a newly configured, contemporary kinship group.
On the ‘in real life’ end of the spectrum, Coal Drops Yard is a new retail space in London King’s Cross station that aims to put culture at the heart of its offer. Seeking to go beyond ‘a place to buy’, Coal Drops Yard is challenging the trend of faceless consumption to create a community of shoppers who are part of a culture through unique events and workshops.
These examples demonstrate an awareness of the new ways we are communicating with one another. By understanding the nature of these new communities, brands can tap into them or build their own, both in person and through digital.
Over the next few years we expect more start-ups to put this at the heart of their business model, similar to what Bumble have done successfully already. Likewise, as demand for these new communities increases, we expect retailers and brands to drive both emotional engagement and sales through the creation of safe spaces for their customers to relate in new ways. Digital may be the starting point, but ultimately, this is about something much more fundamental. This depth of connection is the differentiator for your brand or product in an increasingly diverse and competitive retail landscape.
Our new quantified UP Trends model allows brands to understand the relevance of our trends by tailoring our data to your key demographics and segments.
To find out how ‘Secure Together’ or any of our other 14 trends is relevant for your audience, contact us at: firstname.lastname@example.org