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Showrooming: A Tale of Two Customers 

Image source: nwaonline.com

Before the holidays I read an article about retail showrooming that got me thinking: If you’re shopping for, let’s say a television, your decision journey might go one of two ways.

Perhaps you start by doing a lot of research online, on your own. In that case, you go to a brick-and-mortar store, armed with all that research, and confirm your choice in store after seeing the televisions in person. Since you (probably) already know what you want, your decision over where to buy most likely comes down to price and service. In this scenario, the important questions are can I get it cheaper online, can I get it delivered to my front door, and can I get a free warranty or other add-ons? You want to know what benefit comes from buying on the spot, in the store where you’ve just tested the products and confirmed your choice.

OR, perhaps your visit to the brick-and-mortar store is your first attempt at gathering information about new televisions. In that case, you might not trust that you’re getting all the right (or best) information and you may feel like you want to go home and augment the info you’ve collected with some Internet research. So what can the store do to get you to either come back and buy there when you’re ready or make the purchase on the store’s own website? The lowest price offering? Exceptional personal service? Some sort of bonus with purchase?

Retailers need to be armed to deal with both these customer types. The Internet Retailer article that inspired these thoughts pointed to some Harris Poll research about showrooming that I find a bit misleading. The research claims that:

  • Just 8% of Best Buy's "showroomers," consumers who go to the store to look at merchandise but then buy online, purchase through Best Buy's web site. The figures are similarly low for Walmart and Target — 11% and 12%, respectively, according to Harris. The rest of the showroomers turn to other online retailers to buy what they've seen, touched, and tried in the store. In many cases, showroomers make their online purchases while still in the store. Best Buy ranks as the number one U.S. store for showrooming.

This research and the article’s analysis of it implies – by focusing on the sales lost to competitors’ websites – that showrooming is a bad thing. I think it overlooks the reality that many customers come to brick-and-mortar stores to gather product information and expert advice. Attempting to prevent showrooming is not a good retail strategy, because more often than not doing so will only push customers away from your brand for good. When customers engage in showrooming, retailers’ should engage customers, to forge a personal connection that entices the customer to either buy the product in the store or to purchase it online. Walmart wants a shopper to go home and buy from Walmart.com, not Amazon.com.

So how can retailers accomplish this? Lots of different ways. Let’s start with exemplary customer service. Claiming that great customer service is critical to success in retail may sound a bit clichéd, but in our increasingly digital, and as a consequence more impersonal, world, a good sales associate can make all the difference. Your people should do more than get customers checked out quickly. They need to understand your products and have a willingness to talk with consumers and provide important feedback. When a salesperson makes a personal connection with a potential customer, that customer is much more likely to buy from your website as opposed to an aggregate seller with whom they have no relationship.

But great personal service is only one part of the equation. When we’re talking retail, we’re talking dollars and cents. People buy from websites like Amazon and eBay because they assume those sites offer the best deals. So brick-and-mortar outlets need to offer price reductions to fickle consumers. Discounts for in-store purchases are a great way to entice consumers to purchase some items. You can also hand out cards with a URL or QR code that takes the consumer to your company website and gives them more information and a discounted price. This will entice shoppers who are determined to buy online to buy from your website. Big ticket purchases present something of a challenge because shoppers tend to want time to mull over the product before committing. For these instances get creative. Launch a “Think it over” campaign with some sort of hook, such as free delivery and free installation or a way to contact a sales associate to talk over specifications.

What I find a little misleading about the aforementioned research from Internet Retailer is that while there will always be a segment of consumers who test products in-store and then look to buy online (scenario one), there is also a segment of consumers who will conduct research online and then look to buy in store (scenario two). We must never forget that lots of shoppers enjoy the instant gratification of purchasing a product in-person. Showrooming is an essential tool to enticing these types of customers to shop in your store. And when done correctly, showrooming can also forge brand loyalty with those who prefer to purchase via the click of a mouse.

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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