Do retailers stand a chance winning over the "showroomers," who wander into their stores to get a look at something they can buy cheaper elsewhere?
Retailers are not helpless, says David Shulman, CEO at Omnicom's digital agency Organic. But they have to surrender the failed tactics they've used until now. Else, they'll see that estimated 20% of their annual take from holiday shopping dwindle over time.
"Showrooming is the canary in the coalmine for bad retail experiences," said Shulman. He observes that as of 15 years ago, ecommerce was a separate and distinct shopping channel, but Amazon tore down the walls between the two; and brick-and-mortar retailers reacted badly.
"Retailers competed for a while by slashing costs, and maybe hiring less qualified retail professionals and cutting locations," said Shulman. "Circuit City was an early victim of ecommerce, and Borders Books. Home Depot too hired less skilled sales professionals in the face of ecommerce."
What that lesser in-store service did was to outsource customer service to the customers themselves, said Shulman, "So it's no wonder they’re doing the final element of price checking and buying themselves. That’s the final consequence."
Shulman calls showrooming the inevitable sequel to a horror movie that came out 15 years ago, "But it doesn't have to be. Once someone's price checking, you know they’re a highly motivated buyer. So that's an opportunity to engage the consumer in a much deeper conversation; to upsell and add layers."
He points to his own experience with Bloomingdales, where "I went into the store with the full intention of showrooming an espresso machine. Not only did Bloomingdales match the price, but the floor manager threw in an extra coffee subscription for me, which Amazon could not have done. When I went later to pick up some of the extras, I bought more than I’d intended to.
"The quote I’ve used is that there might be a race to the bottom in pricing, but it's still a race to the top in experience. But the onus is on retailers to create an experience that ameliorates the price advantage of online retailers."
Consumer Data, Omnichannel Experiences Two Weapons
In-store service begins the same way as does online retailing: With actionable data on the consumer. "In the past, online retailers definitely had the advantage of profiles, order histories and so forth, so they could offer deals accordingly," said Shulman. "But retailers are able to play a catchup game for personalized customer data. That’s the battle, not price checking."
Shulman observes that showrooming begins in the living room, on PCs and mobile devices. "That’s why retailers like Target, Loew's and Macy's are investing heavily in the omnichannel strategy. The experience in-store and in-hand with mobile device is seamless, and feels like part of one continuum.
"And the omnichannel experience is an advantage they have over Amazon. In-store pickup and returns are things that Walmart can do and Amazon currently can't.
"So it’s not a lost battle for retailers."
If mobile devices are the showroomers' magic wand (and they are – a Google/Ipsos survey released this week showed that 4 in 5 mobile device owners will use them in holiday shopping this year), those devices present "An opportunity for the retailer to geofence the store to serve interesting content," perhaps with in-store apps. "And they have to enhance retail sales people's abilities to make deals, but also their competence. A lot of the reason Best Buy screwed up is that the on-floor sales force was not as competent as online." Shulman estimates that 40% of people in some key categories (e.g., electronics) are comparing prices as well as features. "That’s an opportunity for retailers, if someone's looking at a PC or TV, to provide extra detail and product information.
"So you change the orientation of showrooming away from price checking to value added information. Some retailers are starting to do that, and Best Buy is one of them.
"I don’t think of showrooming as a detriment to retailers," Shulman concludes. "Not unless they are offering a bad experience to begin with."