26 May 2024, 15:49
By Ian Tomlinson Jun 20, 2013

How to combat the showrooming phenomenon

The digital revolution continues apace in retail, says Cybertill’s Ian Tomlinson, who highlights one of the latest trends, showrooming – in which consumers go into a store to look at and test a product, but then leave to buy it online. How can retailers combat this phenomenon? Or better yet, take advantage of it?

For those retailers believing this is a fad or will simply disappear, the stats seem to show that this is a growing trend, and fast becoming a mainstream phenomenon, with 24% of people admitting showrooming when doing their Christmas shopping in 2012.

40% of those that showroomed then took their business elsewhere. Another potential issue for retailers is that it is entirely plausible that online-only retailers will see this as an opportunity and open up some select showrooms.

So how do retailers react to this trend? There are some examples of retailers reacting quite angrily to this. For example, an Australian retailer introduced a $5 fee to browse in store. Although such a response from frustrated retailers may be understandable, it will only alienate or turn potential customers away. For furniture retailers this situation is exacerbated because of the nature of the high ticket prices.

“Argos is in the process of rolling out free Wi-Fi across all their stores, undaunted by showrooming”

One growing train of thought is that retailers should embrace showrooming and see it as an opportunity and not a threat. One thing they cannot do is ignore it, as it is here to stay. With the proliferation of smart phones and Wi-Fi, it is only going to become an everyday occurrence – hence retailers need to think how they are going to address this digital phenomenon.

There are some tactics that retailers can implement that ensure showrooming is an opportunity for them and not a threat to their business:

Customer service

You can’t put a price on excellent customer service. Knowledgeable and well-trained staff are worth their weight in gold. They can help and advise customers and offer valuable insights when they are making purchases. Also, going the extra mile for customers as well drives loyalty. For example, Lincoln Furniture Warehouse offer a no-quibble returns policy whereby customers can return furniture if they have an issue with it, even if it is several years later.

Get digital

Many consumers have a digital experience at home and at work, using the latest interactive technology. And although showrooming is mainly a phenomenon used by younger shoppers, these shoppers, if not already customers, will be in a few years. So some retailers are creating a digital experience for consumers in store.

For example Virgin Media’s concept store in Westfield, White City, London. They have a full touchscreen wall for product browsing, TiVO lounges and iPads consumers can use to find out information, test products and so forth. Staff also use iPads – being used as a mobile point-of-sale rather than a fixed till – so they can walk round with consumers, giving them a more attentive retail experience.

Retailers can use digital technology to allow customers to shop online when in store. Tablets, such as iPads, linked to the retailer’s website, allow consumers to check product information and look at reviews, as well as online offers and live stock levels.

Wi-Fi

Offering free Wi-Fi to customers may sound counter-intuitive but it allows retailers to collect information when consumers register to use the Wi-Fi. Retailers can then also target special daily offers towards these consumers. Argos is in the process of rolling out free Wi-Fi across all their stores, undaunted by showrooming – their chief executive Terry Duddy told Retail Week that “showrooming is now a fact of retail life”.

Be multi-channel

Retailers with a presence online and on the high street are at an advantage. They can offer services such as click and collect, reserve and collect, in-store returns for goods bought online, online videos and tutorials about products and services. This is about offering a better retail experience and customer service. Arguably for furniture retailers promoting and offering free delivery in store will also help dissuade consumers buying online, as delivery charges can be a big turn-off for consumers.

There are other tactics such as price matching, in-store apps and so forth, but not all of these would be relevant to all retailers.
However, it is worth noting that retailers won’t always win out – there will always be those that showroom. And remember, it is not just a digital phenomenon – this has always happened, mobile phones just made it easier. People have always checked and compared prices – whereas before they might have just compared prices between high street shops, now they can do it anywhere. But the more agile retailers will turn this to their advantage.

Ian Tomlinson is the CEO and founder of Cybertill, a cloud-based multi-channel retail system.

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