3 Ways Retailers Can Participate in the Sharing Economy

Nizzi Renaud, CMO, Zazzle
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Nizzi Renaud, CMO, Zazzle

The sharing economy—for some it feels like a movement, for others a fad. While most define the sharing economy as a concept where peers borrow from peers, the concept has expanded to include many trends that are redefining commerce.   

At Zazzle, we live and breathe a robust ecosystem, which allows us to implement concepts of the sharing economy while staying true to our mission of on demand customization of products ranging from cards and apparel to stamps and skateboards. For Zazzle, our core premise in the sharing economy is allowing consumers to interact with makers and designers to customize our wide product offering. Here are the top 3 trends we can share with our fellow retailers to keep in mind as you evaluate the intricacies around the sharing economy, and what it may mean to your business.  

Localization matters 

For retailers who deal with scale, localization can feel like an impractical option on many levels. Many traditional retailers are making moves into the sharing economy by partnering with local manufacturing firms to empower retailers to have better control over the manufacturing process, from stylistic decisions to inventory management. One solution is to find the area where localization can have an impact- i.e., if not the entire product line, then the packaging perhaps. While there has been much made out of the environmental impacts of localized production, the truth is - there is a consumer base that values the concept of made locally as part of the new sharing economy.

The sharing economy can provide inspiration for any fast-growing retail player 

The storytelling opportunity around transparency in manufacturing plays a part in the localization trend. For Zazzle, there’s great pride in having our manufacturing facilities in the heart of Silicon Valley while allowing for makers and manufacturers around the world to connect in to Zazzle’s platform. Furthermore, local organizations such as SF Made or Detroit Made show that the resurgence in local manufacturing is recognized by local governments.  

Being on trend  

Retailers such as H&M and Zara have built core businesses around trend-based manufacturing; for others, there’s value in carving out a portion of the business that can be trend or story driven- that can react within the month, within the week or within the day to a trending topic. It goes hand in hand with the localization—a quick turnaround can enable the items get to store quickly while the trend is still current thanks to a local manufacturing presence. While the sharing economy has provided its fair share of controversy around surge (or demand) level pricing, there is a possibility that limited edition can command its own price as needed.   

As part of the sharing process, the use of social media can be a powerful asset and one more reason to consider additional investment in social media. At Zazzle, we’ve seen great impact in allowing consumers to see how others are using their products through the use of social media tags and user-generated image galleries. User-generated galleries are an effective and viral marketing tool, and allow for an actual two way communication beyond the read and response of social postings. 

Customization 

Much has been made of the impact of millennials on today’s retail environment but there’s no denying that there’s a generation of consumers out there who expect a level of co-creation, on demand and customization as a matter of course for their retail experience. Personalization is not a concept solely for the on demand manufacturers of the world. Whether it’s NikeID’s custom shoes or the configuration of your lunch burrito at your local Chipotle, it’s clear that there is a widespread consumer demand for unique products that have a personal touch.  

For companies that can’t easily add customization to their product offerings, the convergence of the online and offline retail experience can provide that co-creation effect. Personalization and recommendation functionality in the browsing experience online and in the customer service experience offline, are two ways to contemplate customization of the experience. It’s important not to cross the chasm from custom to creepy but personalization can provide much of the serendipity and uniqueness that customers are demanding. 

The sharing economy can provide inspiration for any fast-growing retail player. First, think how your business can participate in local. Consumers want to support local manufacturing because it saves on shipping costs, inventory management, and wastage. Buying local feels good, and consumers are pushing retailers to engage with local makers or provide a transparency in the manufacturing process more than ever before. Second, get trendy. Many retailers want to be able to react in the moment to trends. By having a marketplace of designers, curators, and tastemakers, the most agile retailers are able to react in the moment to create new designs that are on trend. Plus, with local manufacturing partners, one no longer needs to plan inventory choices months in advance due to overseas shipping times. Finally, customization is a growing trend—there’s a strong consumer demand for customized products—from furniture to stationery—consumers want to have the choice to express themselves with a custom product.

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