Why Showrooming is Good for Retail

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Jeff Fagel
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We should thank Amazon for the burgeoning showrooming epidemic.  I expect that this might not be the most popular sentiment, but I honestly believe retail is due for a major overhaul.

Showrooming happens when consumers go to a store, look at a product,

and then buy it cheaper online.

I’ll offer up four reasons why showrooming is good for retail.

1. Retailers Should Focus On Solutions, Not Just Stuff.

Simply put, retailers need to work harder. Let’s take the basic pillow. For most, the pillow buying experience doesn’t take much thought. Hard, soft, flat, king, queen…that is, unless it’s a pillow that improves sleep and adjusts to an individual’s sleep habits.

That’s precisely the promise of the Sleep Number Air Fit pillow. And for $229 a pop, you’ll have to ask yourself: is the price of comfort and the promise that you can dial up or down comfort levels worth it? Solutions sell, whereas simply selling ‘stuff’ is the underlying symptom of showrooming.

So, focus on smart solutions, whether it’s unique, ownable product like The Shops at Target, or take a cue from outdoor retailer REI where, if at any time, a purchase doesn’t meet your expectations, you can return it for a replacement or refund. Don’t give reason to pull out a bar scanner app and search for a lower-priced alternative on Amazon.

2. Make It Easy For Me.

Central to the college freshman experience is shopping, specifically decking out the dorm room.  While Amazon might play a part in the textbook experience, Bed Bath and Beyond leads the Back-to-Campus experience. Notice I say ‘experience.’

Head to your local Bed Bath & Beyond to order your sheets, towels, shelf organizers, and then pick up your items at the local Bath & Beyond closest to your campus. Simple and convenient, giving Bed Bath & Beyond a leg up on Wal*Mart and Target.

The next step would be free delivery door to door and in-store smartphone scanning to manage your experience, similar to how the Crate & Barrel Gift Registry App has evolved the wedding registry experience. So, think about making it easy, but also combining ‘omni-channel’ solutions that connect online, mobile, and in-store to deliver a better customer experience.

3. You Had Me At Hello.

Many purchases require research, thought, time, and education. Whether you’re buying a bike or a refrigerator, there are endless options. I recently purchased both and spent countless hours researching options, reading reviews, and ultimately purchasing in a store vs. online.

The allure of using the store as a ‘showroom’ to touch, feel, test  –and then buy online — was a consideration, but buying in a physical store won out. The personal experience was the tie-breaker.

Take the bike experience: I wavered and wondered if I could save money by purchasing online on eBay, craigslist, or online bicycle shops. In the end, expertise and experience won out.

Kozy offered a no-questions, 15-day money back guarantee, test rides, free tune-ups, and free accessories installation. Thus, whether you’re a local bike shop or a national retailer, the short-sighted view could be that these options cut into profit, but simple consumer-focused solutions like these are precisely what can stave off showrooming, drive loyalty, and increase profit.

4. Customize Me.

The old “buy low, sell high” model of retailing is gone. Upstarts like Warby Parker have figured out that they can provide just as good level of product and, some might say, a better experience for less than $100.

What does this have to do with showrooming?

Think about how online or mobile can drive in-store or how in-store can tap into mobile and technology. According to a recent study, 33 percent of consumers have admitted to comparison shopping on a competitor’s website while in another retailer’s store. This finding demonstrates that while retailers today should consider “showrooming” consumers, there’s also an opportunity to help shoppers feel good about their purchases while in-store.

From Converse offering in-store shoe customization to Nordstrom shipping out-of-stock product to your home for free, both offer a ‘customized’ experience that builds a deeper relationship.  We‘ve learned at edo that it can be as simple as sending a personalized and relevant offer based on prior spending behavior to drive in-store purchase. In the end, it’s about how you personalize an experience so that it feels exclusive, special, and creates a stir where others will spread the word.

The Bottom Line

Competition across online and offline retail is so fierce, and customers are a lot less forgiving. To have any chance to survive, let alone flourish, in the age of showrooming, ‘poke the box’ and stay true to these four tenants:

  • Focus on solutions, not just ‘stuff,’ because tired will lose.
  • Make it easy & omni-channel.
  • Experience adds to the bottom line.
  • Custom is attainable.

What are your thoughts? Please share your comments in the box below.

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Jeff Fagel

Jeff Fagel

Jeff Fagel is Vice President, Marketing and Brand Development at a venture-backed start-up that helps advertisers connect online advertising with in-store results. With more than 15 years of brand marketing experience, Fagel has held multiple leadership roles at PepsiCo, Gatorade, Frito-Lay & and Kmart.. You can find Jeff on  and Twitter.

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Comments (7)
  • You are right, Jeff!  When I read the opening, I was skeptical that I’d agree with your premise.  But, you won me over because retail is definitely in need of an overhaul.  Consumers need to demand a higher level of customer service and be willing to put value on that service.

  • Todd – Thanks for the comment – I’d boil it down to: Focus on solutions, not just ‘stuff,’ because tired will lose. All marketers need to evolve, two of my favorite books ‘Poke the Box’ by Seth Godin and ‘Orbiting the Giant Hairball’ by Gordon MacKenzie speak to ‘starting’ and working within and around the system to make things happen.  Competition across online and offline retail is so fierce, and customers are a lot less forgiving so we all must evolve our thinking.
    Jeff

  • I have felt like retailers have been slow to embrace this change that has been painfully apparent for so long and they are the only ones to blame. For myself I want a quality product, you can stock all the lower quality versions of things you want but its not price point that is important, so they need to have the good stuff. Secondly I really like what Performance Bike does, price match other retailers and three months if they have it cheaper on their website or in store you can come in and get a refund. This is awesome so if I want it today then I can buy it knowing that if I want to spend my time going back I will have the option of getting it at the best price they offer for 90 days after my purchase. Lastly you are right about REI, its an amazing policy that can’t be ignored for a few dollars cheaper on amazon. Two years ago I purchased two expensive backlit keyboards because I really liked the first one I got and wanted a second just in case and didn’t want to risk it not being available. Turned out that the second one didn’t work when I plugged it in a week ago after spilling a drink on the first one. Sadly I just wasted my money on that, as I should have tested it but an REI policy would have been amazing in that scenario and would have given the customer a reason to always shop there when the store makes it known that they are there for you as a customer. Great customer service policies can be a great tool for getting customers to stop thinking about price. However one big pitfall some stores in Chicago make is charging higher than MSRP. I purchased a spoke wrench from a bike store this spring for $18, MSRP was $11. That didn’t make me too happy about my experience at that store and haven’t been back.

  • I agree stores should focus on delivering value.  Good products and service at a fair price is key.  I still don’t think you have convinced me that showrooming is good for retail especially for independent retailers.  I think we need to adapt with the times but, I still say shoppers should Buy It Where You Try It because retailers like me don’t charge to show, explain, demo.  If you value that in-person experience, it’s important to purchase in-person.

    • Clarify: Important to purchase in-store when you have taken advantage of the shopkeeper’s demo, explanation etc.  Not to say all purchases should be in-stores, but to keep brick & mortar a part of the retail landscape, purchases made with assistance from retailers should be done in-store.

  • Great thoughts, Jeff.  I think BB&B is a great example of how retailers can use showrooming behavior to their advantage.  Clearly the idea started with the actual shopper in mind.  To me, that is where retail really needs to go. 
     
    Some categories require more choice editing, which to your point, is a solution that can be provided beyond simply selling the stuff.  It’s also an advantage that a retailer can have over the online marketplace, because when I’m looking for a new modem, let’s say, I want something that works for my system, carrier, etc.   The fear of a FAIL supercedes the cost savings for me.  I don’t have time or patience to get it wrong.  Walking into Best Buy I got that help, and I bought the modem on the spot.  I didn’t comparison shop, I just bought it because the associate knew my system, understood what I was looking for, and confidently pointed me to the right choice.
     
    In contrast, when I needed a new printer, I also went to Best Buy.  I’m pretty confident that I know what to buy, but I still spoke to an associate.  I also pulled up that printer on my smartphone right there in the store and found it $30 cheaper somewhere else.  So the question becomes whether or not I think the help from the associate is worth the extra $30, or if I have time to wait a few days in order to save the $30. As we all know, this is Best Buy’s biggest challenge right now as they are being hit hardest by the showrooming trend.  (I went for saving $30.)
     
    So I do think the extent of a retailer’s ability to change the showrooming behavior also depends on external factors like product complexity, shopper knowledge, etc.  All the assistance in the world won’t make me spend $30 more on a printer.  Though free ink refills might.  I guess that would fall squarely into your suggestion of “solutuons” versus stuff.

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