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Retail Showrooming: Fighting Fire with Fire

In the Patina design store in Dallas, Texas, customers use technology to visualize products installed virtually into their own life-size settings.

I’ve read several recent articles debating whether showrooming – customers’ practice of testing, touching, or trying on products in a store while using a mobile device to find the best price and make the actual purchase – is the future of brick and mortar retail. These articles also detail what retailers can do to prevent showrooming from happening in their stores. I believe that showrooming is the future of retail, and I think retailers should be encouraging it.

Recent research from Deloitte indicates that 48 percent “of smartphone owners surveyed said their phones have influenced their decision to purchase an item in a store.” In fact, smartphone wielding shoppers “are fourteen percent more likely to convert and make a purchase in the store than non-smartphone users.” These numbers are striking and are only likely to get bigger. This is proof that retailers need to enable the use of smartphones in their stores and make it easy for customers to connect, to find information, and to make purchases while shopping.

First, put technology in your sales associates’ hands. Remember that customers often turn to mobile devices because they feel like they can’t get the answers they seek from in-store staff. Your sales associates should be able to provide as much information as is available online, even if that means they’re just looking it up on a tablet while in conversation with a customer. This demonstrates that they’re there to offer personal face-to-face assistance, which remains one of brick and mortar stores’ greatest assets.

Second, take a close look at your pricing. One of the biggest reasons that cash-strapped customers check their phones is that they know they can often find a better price online than in-store. Why not offer a special deal to the customer that buys on site? This doesn’t have to mean discounting; it could be a buy-one-get-one deal, a gift with purchase, or another similar add-on.

Next, keep in mind that instant gratification is another asset unique to brick and mortar stores; a customer can buy a product and take it home right away. So here’s your opportunity to take it a step further. Add personalization to the product. Pack it up and deliver it to the customer’s door. Offer complimentary service for a year. Going that extra step has the potential to surprise your customer with the positive experience that keeps them coming back for more.

Finally, make sure your online and in-store channels are completely intertwined. Your customers are almost certain to have done a little research before walking through your doors, so make sure the information they find in-store – everything from promotional messages to prices – is the same as what they’d found online. Even better: combine the convenience of an online transaction with the instant gratification of an in-store experience by allowing customers to order from the web, but pickup products in-store. Customers have the tools to design their own multi-channel shopping experiences whether you like it or not. Why not show them that you’re on their side by helping them do it?

In fact, just this past weekend, while rug shopping at my local Restoration Hardware, Yasmin, my sales associate, let me know that they’ve moved to more of a showroom model. She invited me to have a seat on a comfy sofa and look at rug options on her iPad, while I showed her images of my family room on my iPhone. We selected a few options, and she gave me samples to take home to try out along with her business card. Now that’s fighting fire with fire.

Barry Bourbon AIA, LEED® AP, is a leader of Gensler’s global retail practice and a principal in the San Francisco office. With a constant eye on the latest tools and technologies that connect consumers and retailers, Barry inspires colleagues to stay focused on the rapidly evolving issues facing clients, and to design for the holistic experience of a brand. Never one to shy from a challenge, Barry is an expert problem solver who excels at leading multi-location, multi-disciplinary teams with the tightest schedules and budgets. Contact him at barry_bourbon@gensler.com.

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