Is your physical store a victim of ‘showrooming’?

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How can retailers stop online shoppers treating their physical stores as try-before-you-buy showrooms?

People have been buying books and music online for years, but most shoppers still don’t like to buy everything sight-unseen. They still want to try on a jacket, road-test a pair of shoes or heft a new notebook for weight before they hand over their money. So they head over to the local shopping centre to try before they buy.

There’s a growing trend for people to do their research in a physical store, but then jump online to buy items cheaper elsewhere. They’ll pull out their phones, search for a better price online and order it on the spot — sometimes even if they’ve just spent half an hour picking the sales staff’s brains for advice. It happens so often that it’s even been given a name: showrooming — the habit of treating the local shopping centre as a giant offline showroom for internet shopping.

Showrooming might seem the height of rudeness, but as everyone tightens their belts you can’t blame people for looking around for the best deal. Retailers might cry foul over the lack of GST on many online purchases, but it’s unlikely to make a difference when price tags are often twice as high in the stores as they are online.

Of course retailers have significant overheads to consider, such as floor space and payroll, but for bargain hunters that’s Someone Else’s Problem. They’ve watched globalisation decimate entire industries, possibly even their own, as businesses scour the world for the cheapest parts and labour. It’s only fair that shoppers should do the same when spending their hard-earned dollars.

How do bricks and mortar stores fight back against showrooming?

Charging people just to walk in the door is unlikely to win over customers in most sectors. Instead retailers need to give shoppers an incentive to shop in-store. You probably can’t beat the internet on price, so need to beat the internet on customer service and other value-added benefits that generate customer loyalty. It’s a buyer’s market, and you have to give them a good reason to buy from you and keep coming back.

If your potential customers are forced to wander the aisles in search of sales staff, who turn out to know nothing about what they’re selling, those customers will see little reason to hand over their money. Some hardcore showroomers will surely take advantage of your improved customer service, but it might be worth it if it helps convert more aisle wanderers into paying customers.

Great pre- and post-sales customer service also generates good will, which keeps people coming back and sees them recommend you to their friends (an area where the internet and social media can actually work in your favour). At this point a customer loyalty program, with discounts and other membership benefits, could be the perfect next step. The key to dealing with potential showroomers is to win them over, not to simply drive them away.