Use the town square retail trend to sell CU products and services

February 27, 2017 CO-OP Financial Services

Retail’s newest trend – the town square – can help credit unions reinforce brand loyalty and sell products and services, especially as members increasingly use self-service technology to process routine transactions.

What is town square? It’s exactly what it sounds like: instead of focusing solely on products, retail locations immerse consumers in brand experience by enriching their lives. For example, Whole Foods has opened three “365 by Whole Foods” stores that provide space for local vendors that cater to the Whole Foods market and lifestyle, like fitness clothing designers and restaurants that serve farm-to-table dishes. Even if the vendor’s products aren’t stocked by Whole Foods, their presence heightens the consumer experience and reinforces brand loyalty.

Whole Foods undoubtedly borrowed at least part of this idea from food cooperatives, which provide education for members like vegan cooking classes and urban chicken farming workshops. These events don’t always sell products available in the store, but by reinforcing brand loyalty, increase sales.

Likewise, clothing retailers are redesigning stores to place stylists in the front of the space, working with customers to discuss their needs: Do they work in an office or from home? Are they shopping for an upcoming special event? Which items work best for their body shape? Sales happen in the back of the store or via mobile devices used by the stylist. This approach takes the successful personal shopping experience at Nordstrom’s or makeovers offered at a makeup counter to a new level.

The town square concept is a great fit for credit unions, positioning them as a financial cooperative that enriches members’ lives while building a better community.

To bring the town square concept to your branch, consider inviting local merchants, whether they’re business account members or not, to display their goods or talents in your branch, and/or lead workshops that expand your members’ skills. Whole Foods allows merchants, known as “Friends of 365,” to apply on its website.

Think about what kind of vendors or educational opportunities support your brand. For example, if you’re a SEG-based credit union that serves teachers, seek out a vendor in your area who sells trendy shoes that are also comfortable to stand in all day, or a shop that sells fashionable clothes that are also professional and modest, and can stretch for story time or playground duty. Community charter credit unions should seek out vendors and artists that capture the essence of their neighborhoods and community lifestyle, such as an up and coming furniture designer or donut shop. One forward-thinking financial planner offers life skills courses for millennials, using the clever name “Adulting 101.” Some of the classes directly relate to financial planning products; some do not.

Using the town square concept to market credit union products and services must be done subtly. Rather than ask the vendor to hawk your business accounts or loans, place signage or marketing collateral near the display area to inconspicuously raise awareness. Select your vendors to support your product and service sales goals. For example, schedule the furniture designer during your mortgage loan and HELOC promotion. Invite the clothing vendor to appear while you’re promoting your credit card or the donut shop during your checking account promotion. Make sure universal bankers are available to answer questions, but make sure they don’t hover over members like car salesmen.

When creating signage, find inspiration in art installations created for town squares. For example, showcase your card design options as a wall installation or create a collage of photos posted on social media of members showing off the new cars they financed with a credit union loan. Commission a local artist to create an art exhibit based on a product, service or the credit union philosophy of “people helping people.”

Finally, make sure your self-service technology kiosks and ATMs support the product or service you’re promoting with the appropriate screens, receipt messages and hardware wraps.

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