Showrooming: The End of Brick and Mortar?

There’s been a lot of buzz lately about “showrooming”, and how it will cripple and/or destroy brick and mortar stores as an effective form of commerce.  For those unfamiliar, showrooming refers to the practice of browsing or researching a product in a store, then purchasing said product for the lowest possible price online.   With the proliferation of so many great online shopping options, it has become cost-effective for consumers to go online to find the best deals without sacrificing much (if any) in the way of service and responsiveness.  The only thing missing from the online experience – physically looking at or holding the product in your hands – can be accomplished in any brick and mortar store.

Sounds pretty bleak right?  Looks like it’s Game Over for anyone trying to market and sell a product offline…or is it?  Let’s face it…in a marketer’s world, the game has been consistently changing ever since the cavemen were trying to sell the first wheel (no doubt pitching “customized transportation solutions” to their potential clientele).  Showrooming just indicates something we already knew: customers are extremely intelligent, and will (almost) always act in their own best interest.  It’s up to marketers to adjust to the changing game, and stay ahead of the curve so to speak.  In today’s world, if you don’t allow customers to browse and purchase your product on their terms, then there’s  a competing company that will.

So what’s the solution?  As a guy who works for a Web Analytics company, it may come as a shock to you that my answer is: Analytics!  With tools like Cross Device Tracking (or Cross Device Measurement) from Google Analytics, marketers have no excuse not to have an extremely clear picture as to how their customers are browsing and buying their products.  Are they browsing on their mobile and buying on their desktop?  Or vice versa?  Maybe they browse online and then buy in the store (with a sign-in or loyalty program this can be tracked and analyzed)?  With this information, marketers can act: online campaigns to drive offline sales (or vice versa), optimized mobile sites, focused device pathing, etc.

Back to showrooming though…it’s a tricky situation even with the tools available.  The problem is, if there’s no purchase offline then there’s nothing to track.  The worst case scenario, of course, is for a customer to browse your store and then buy online from a competitor.  This can be avoided with slick mobile/tablet/desktop buying experiences, price match guarantees, or in-store sales or incentives.  Also, an in-depth look at in-store vs online sales can give you an indirect, but reasonably clear, idea if you’ve been getting “showroomed” heavily (this is where an expert analyst comes in handy).

I guess the coherent thought that you should be taking away if you’ve read this far is that “showrooming” is nothing to panic about.  Will it decrease in-store sales?  Of course, but that was always going to happen as the population as a whole becomes more technology-savvy and comfortable making purchases online.  The key, as always, is to anticipate the customer behavior and position yourself to be their best option, whether it be in-store or online.  In that sense, things really haven’t changed since the first wheel sale back in the day.

Anyway, time for me to go try on some running shoes before I buy them online.  Later!


Posted under Uncategorized by NickThompson on 15th October, 2013 Tagged , , , , , |

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Jeffrey James
October 15, 2013 at 11:37 pm

In certain EU countries it’s actually typical for customers to order several pairs of shoes they never intend to buy, so if you were reporting gross of returns your stats would be quite off.

In 10 years time stores will have department sensors, which will be immediately correlated with web department behavior and predictive models will estimate demand and what the proper discount trade-off equation is for the retailer after a competitive comparison, by market and perhaps by customer attributes if available.

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