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Embrace Showrooming

Showrooming doesn’t sound like an eCommerce term.
I’m fascinated by the concept of showrooming, because it blends traditional retail with eCommerce and mobile commerce. I’ll be honest though, I’m not a big retail shopper. I fit in that category of men that make a list before I enter the store. With a list, my shopping experience becomes like an exercise in pick-and-pack. Easy is as easy does.

Wikipedia defines showrooming as “the act of examining merchandise in a brick and mortar retail store without purchasing it there, then shopping online to find a lower price for the same item.“ While I’m well versed at online shopping, I thought it would be best if I turned to my wife for a more educated opinion on showrooming.

A research group of one turned into a smaller group.
The great thing about interviewing my wife, is that I immediately gained access to the thought patterns and behaviours of her friends (Because women talk about shopping). That’s good, because it helped to give a more rounded opinion on this subject. I captured a few key thoughts from her:

1. “When I’m in a store I need the object right then.” – My wife doesn’t really get the showrooming mentality. She’s in a store to make a purchase at that moment. She generally shops a store based on past association with the brand, convenience of location, and pricing.

2. “I don’t have time to go and research all of the prices and make purchases at different retailers.” – Similar to her first thought, she said that her schedule with multiple kids at home just doesn’t allow the luxury of this level of research. To me, seeing all competing prices for a product in one place is the beauty of a price grabber program. But in her mind, she allocates time to shop and then moves on to the next commitment of the week. She doesn’t want to repeat shop.

3. “Some people will do anything to get the lowest price they can find, regardless of the time and steps to get it.” – She’s right about this. It describes the price conscious customer segment that will work a little harder to find the lowest price when price is the biggest factor in the decision purchase. Coupons and Showrooming are great examples of this.

4. “People take pictures of products for different reasons. I have friends that pictures for patterns and then will make it at home. One time I took a picture of three dresses and sent them to our daughter to see which one she liked best.” – In other words, not everyone takes pictures of items to then go home and try to find the product online.

My take-away from the interview was that showrooming isn’t used by everyone and isn’t always used to purchase a product elsewhere. But it is a consumer behavior that is enabled by technology and will get the attention of retailers.

Retailers need to embrace the practice, not trick consumers.
A behavior I found disturbing was in the report from Samuel Greengard, of CMO.com which discusses the threats that retailers feel from the practice.  Greengard writes about some of the techniques retailers have used to combat issue such as trying to get unique UPC codes and blocking access programs from within their store space.  Come-on, really?

Just like Brands can’t control the conversation about their products and services on social sites, retailers won’t be able to control consumer behavior like showrooming, nor should they. That’s a point that Greengard makes as well. My thought is why can’t retailers spend all of that intellectual and project time time creating ways to embrace the consumer behavior?

One idea is to show competitive pricing on some common products right in the store. I’ve seen this at Grocery stores and automobile service shops.  They’ll save you the time and it’s good for the store owner because they know where they stand in market pricing.

Another idea is to promote the benefits of buying in the store. I’m thinking of things like no hassle returns, take it home today, shopping rewards cards, etc. Alternatively promote an online sale from the online store of the retailer.

Consumers will only get more versed in using technology to help them with everyday tasks. Retailers should embrace showrooming and find ways to benefit themselves and the customer.

How do you shop?

I read a nice post this morning about online shopping preferences (http://www.marketingpilgrim.com/2008/11/over-70-of-people-surveyed-dont-enjoy-shopping-online.html).   The findings of the survey don’t surprise me.  The honey moon of the online shopping era is over.  Consumers that have tried both have formed their opinions based on their experiences. Marketers now wrestle with questions around which channel they want to customer to use and which channel the customer really wants to use.

I tend to opt for shopping online to avoid the traffic, parking lot searches, and waiting in line.  This gave me even more satisfaction a few months ago when gas was $4 a gallon.   Others in my household prefer the thrill of the hunt (I can hunt for bargains online too) and moving from store-to-store (Yeah, I can move from site-to-site too).  “But the deals” I hear are to be found at the stores.

So what’s the best way to shop?

I tried the store route this past weekend because I needed clothes and wasn’t sure of the sizes.  I went to two department stores and took my wife as a guide since this is about the equivalent to traveling to a foreign county with a different language for me.  I made it to a parking spot safely which was a good start (in a past excursion I wrecked the car).

Department Store 1

My wife says “70% off!  Get off the main walkway and look for the deals.”  After 45 minutes and with the help of a very nice store assistant, I had my products  Payment was straight-forward.  No cross-selling, no additional coupons, no store credit card, yaddy, yadda, yadda.

Department Store 2

It should be stated, that I only went to a second store because I couldn’t find a particular item in store #1.  (There’s a marketing lesson in that).  This store offered a much different experience.  The sale prices were better, but the store assistant was a little annoying.  I settled on a few items (1/2 off) and was ready to pay.  That’s when it got interesting.  The assistant asks if I wanted to open a store card to save an additional 15%.  I’ve done this before in the past to get the discount and then immediately canceled the card after the first bill.  As a general rule, I try to minimize the number of cards in my wallet.  I had my secret weapon though because my wife already had a card.  “No” he says, it has to be a new card.  Yaddy, yadda, yadda and I had a new card for an additional 15%.  He even pulled a piece of paper out of the drawer with a code to give me another $25 off.  At this point, my head was spinning from all the math, the assistant was happy because I’m sure he gets a commission on a new account opening, and my wife had left for the nearest shoe rack.  Help!

It should be noted that I ended the excursion by buying my wife a Christmas present, that she picked out.  I even put it on that new card to save the 15%.

So, what’s the best way to shop?