Showrooming has become a significant problem for retailers of all sizes.
The word “showrooming” refers to the consumer practice of scoping out a physical item in a store, then ordering it at a lower price online. Over time, it has eaten into sales. Reversing the trend is top-of-mind for many businesses.
Companies are taking different approaches to coping with showrooming. For instance, Best Buy will match any price a customer finds online. This move “ends showrooming for Best Buy customers,” company spokesman Matt Furman said in a Business Insider
article. Target, which found showrooming a big deal in its toy section during the holiday season, added QR codes to top-selling toys enabling faster and easier ordering and shipping to home addresses, upping the convenience factor.
But Celiac Supplies has taken a different approach. The Brisbane, Australia purveyor of gluten-free groceries will charge you $5 for looking without buying. What is essentially an admission fee to the store will be deducted from the bill when you buy something.
According to a sign in the store window, the policy has been enacted because “there has been a high volume of people who use this store as a reference and then purchase goods elsewhere.” The sign also claims the practice is “in line with many other clothing, shoe and electronic stores who are also facing the same issue.”
The up-front fee is common in wine tasting rooms, where you pay for the tasting but the fee is deducted from any bottles you purchase. But at least you get to taste wine, a tangible product. Five bucks for browsing? You’d think they’d at least give you five dollars’ worth of gluten-free cookies.
Policy has the opposite effect
Celiac Supplies’ policy could well drive customers to do their shopping online only, skipping the visit to the physical store altogether. In fact, this behavior may already be taking shape, according to Storefront Backtalk
When I shared the image of Celiac Supplies’ sign on Facebook, my friend Ike Pigott asked, “Does that mean that when we come in to buy something, and they don’t have it in stock, that we not only get our $5 back but an additional $5 to cover our wasted travel costs?” Questions like that are also likely to keep customers from walking through the door in the first place..
On the store’s Facebook page
, some customers equate the fee to paying for advice, which they support, even though I never have to pay to get my pharmacist’s advice.
While a CNet report on Celiac Supplies’ move notes that “some Reddit users mentioned knowing of clothing stores with showrooming fees,” charging money to walk through the door is not the solution. In fact, it will reduce foot traffic and dampen potential sales. Who, passing by, would want to pop in and see what the store has to offer if it means forking over $5 for the privilege?
Ways to prevent showrooming
Beyond Target’s and Best Buy’s solutions, there are other ways stores can beat back showrooming. One is to ensure customers know the advantages of buying from the brick-and-mortar store, such as easy returns and exchanges, financing, and getting the product right now
. If you offer Wi-Fi to your customers, you can even make sure these points appear before a customer can visit a competitor’s site.
Other solutions include offering exclusive products customer can’t find anywhere else, emphasizing same-day in-store pickups to avoid shipping fees routinely assessed by online stores, and/or offering personalized prices. For example, Target customers can get daily-deal alerts and exclusive discount coupons via their smartphones. Equip staff with tablets they can use to respond in detail to any customer query and you add another reason to buy in-store.
“The more information customers can get out of store associates—including being steered to an alternative version of the product they want that may be less expensive than what they have seen online, but suits their purpose better—the more indebted they will feel to the retailer,” according to Shopkeep CEO Jason Richelson, quoted in a Vertical Systems Retailer article
. “However, that won’t happen without technology.”
Retailers can also offer exceptional customer service buyers can’t find online, which requires better training of salespeople.
There are also technology solutions. Nearbuy Systems offers “indoor micro-location systems for in-store mobile shopping,” according to a Publishers Weekly piece about showrooming
. Imagine a customer standing in the science fiction or fantasy aisle getting a notification on his phone—along with a discount offer—noting that a famous sci-fi author will be making a store appearance. The ticket to the event “could also be sold on the spot through a mobile purchase or added to a virtual cart that could be settled via a mobile payment or at the physical cash register.”
As Alex Romanov writes in a Retail Touchpoints piece
, “Combined, digital signs and smartphones establish a two-way communication that allows marketers to send relevant and timely rewards and product information directly to the shopper while they’re on the floor and primed to buy.”
Regardless of the viable solution a retailer picks, punishing customers for wanting to come into your store is the worst possible remedy.
Shel Holtz is principal of Holtz Communication + Technology. A version of this story first appeared on his blog a shel of my former self.