It used to be called “shopping around”. Now it’s called “showrooming”. This holiday season more than half of all US shoppers will head to a brick-and-mortar shop to touch and see the item they want to buy before purchasing it online, most likely from another retailer who offers it for less. This, of course, is driving shoppers to online outlets that can undercut the prices at physical stores. People still like the social aspects of shopping, as illustrated by the crowds during Black Friday sales—but they also want a good price.
Retailers used to see “showrooming” as something to discourage, but times are changing. America’s largest retailer, Wal-Mart, is embracing the trend, at least publicly. The company has created an app which detects when you walk into a Walmart store and displays an interactive circular listing what’s on sale that week. It also lets you scan barcodes, keep a running total of items you’ve picked up, and switch easily to Walmart.com to order things that aren’t in stock in the physical store. “Walmart have recognized the reality that no one leaves their smartphones in the car when they come in to shop. Since that’s the case, Walmart has decided not to fight the phone, but to leverage it as one more way to make a sale,” writes Wired.
Saks Fifth Avenue likewise has a no-fear approach to “showrooming.” The fashion retailer has made wifi available in all of its stores, hoping this encourages use of its new e-commerce app. “A recent study says Saks may be on the right side of the showrooming debate,” writes Internet Retailer. That study, by Deloitte, found that shoppers with smartphones were 14% more likely to purchase in store. “The mobile channel is a powerful customer engagement tool,” the study says, “enabling retailers to capture a shopper’s attention at the point-of-purchase, while gleaning valuable information about shopper behavior regardless of the shopper’s location.”
Best Buy has shown less enthusiasm toward showrooming in the past (declining to display barcodes for scanning and comparing prices last year, for example) and part of its current strategy to combat the trend is to spend more on customer-service training. But if customers find something in the store for less money online, the company will in some cases match the price. So will Target, Fry’s Electronics and Staples. Best Buy is also working with edo Interactive, a startup that connects banking data and advertising, to create discounts for the holders of certain credit cards. The retailer may be gambling that shoppers offered the chance of an automatic discount will take it instead of hunting around for lower prices. “When it comes to user behavior, laziness trumps all, which is why cumbersome apps and confusing QR codes haven’t caught on,” writes AdAge.