14 ways that retailers can embrace showrooming

With apologies to my friends in retail, I was an unintentional showrooming customer recently:

A couple of months ago I needed to buy a video camera. I’d never owned one before so I read online to find out what sorts of things I should think about when buying a camera; I read several comparison sites and product review sites, and decided on a camera to buy. I found a local electronics store that stocked the camera (according to their website) and I drove there to buy it.

But when I got there, they didn’t have it. The unhelpful salesperson (who took forever to serve me) didn’t know when they’d be getting more in. So I went home, visited the store’s website, bought it online, had it shipped to me for free (and at a price that was cheaper than what was advertised for what it would have cost if the camera had been in the store).

If you are in retail, you have showrooming customers: People who go to your store to look around and then go somewhere else (increasingly online) to buy it there.

Showrooming is a real problem for retail stores right now — particularly for electronics stores like Future Shop, Best Buy, etc., but certainly other industries are getting hit by this phenomenon as well. We’re a shopping culture equipped with powerful mobile devices and we are highly educated on how to find good deals.

I get why showrooming seems to be a problem. But I’d like to put forward the case that showrooming could help businesses.

14 WAYS TO EMBRACE SHOWROOMING

Is showrooming really that bad? From the store’s perspective, showrooming represents a waste of building, inventory, and staff resources, and (of course) a loss of revenue.

But from a consumer perspective, it’s not that bad. And I hate to point this out but all stores are in the business of helping customers. So, how can retailers address the reality of showrooming in their business to help customers who are increasingly becoming showrooming shoppers?

Here are 14 ideas.

  1. Post QR codes in the store to products on your website. When people are in the store with their mobile devices, make it easy for them to find it on your website first. (Hint: Once they are on your site, give them a reason to buy it right them from the site.
  2. Advertise in-store that you will beat your competitor’s prices — and you should probably add “even online prices!”.
  3. If you have more products online than in your store (even temporarily, as was the case for the video camera I bought), educate your sales staff to direct people to the store’s website, perhaps even walking them over to an in-store computer where they can make the purchase right there. Train your staff to provide compelling reasons to buy now from the company website.
  4. Make your sales staff easy to work with. One of the biggest reasons I prefer to shop online is because I can never find a salesperson at some of those big box electronics stores. And when I do, they’re busy. And when they finally do help me, they’re frequently called away by others. Plus they’re like 16 years old and I wonder if they even know what they are talking about.
  5. Train your staff to sell the extended warranty intelligently and less aggressively. The hassle of saying “no” a dozen times to a commission-eager salesperson is a huge motivator for me to shop online; I check a box once for “no extended warranty” and I’m done with it. I understand that extended warranties are big money makers but they’re also a hassle for the customer and I think it’s something that drives people to shop online.
  6. Customers want to control their shopping experience. That’s one reason that online shopping is so attractive: You can browse and buy what you want and when you want. Sales staff need to be trained to help customers feel like they are in control of their shopping experience. I think apparel salespeople do this really well but electronics salespeople do not.
  7. Entice your customers into the store by offering them a unique buying experience. Why would I ever go into a Staples store — where I can never find staff and then I have to wait in line when I do want to buy something — when, instead, I can go online and buy what I want and have it shipped to my house for free within a day? No contest. Can retailers take a page from the playbook of shopper-friendly stores like Chapters? Yes, even Chapters isn’t immune from showrooming but they’ve got Starbucks and a very positive experience that brings people into their stores. And that’s a start.
  8. Offer incentives for buying in the store right now. Going back to my video camera experience — why would I ever want to drive to a store and then pay more for a product if I can get it shipped to my house? I guess “immediate pick-up” (compared to waiting for delivery) might be one enticement but it’s not always an enticement. It doesn’t have to be a price enticement. Get creative on this. A couple of ideas follow…
  9. Offer products that they simply won’t get online. Yeah, you can buy everything online but you might not always think of shopping for 100 different branded computer mouses, each one bearing the name of your favorite band or sports team. In store, you can get that. See? Bring people in with other stuff that they can’t easily find online.
  10. Package deals that they won’t get online. Bundling seems hard to do online. I’ve only seen a few stores do it well. In general, you get your list of stuff, add things individually to a shopping cart, and checkout, perhaps applying some kind of coupon code to the whole cart. But in store, you can get creative. You can bundle things together. Don’t make me shop for the 100 individual cords that need to connect my computer to my surround sound system — put them altogether in a bundle of cords.
  11. Offer additional services that they won’t get online. When I’ve bought computers online and had them shipped to my house, I plugged them in, turned them on, and I was good to go. But I went out to an electronics store to buy my entertainment system. Why? Because there are so many damn cords to connect, I needed a bit of help. I still did it wrong at first but the guy at the store was helpful. He gave me a nice little chart to show me where everything should go. He even offered to come to my house to hook it all up (for an additional fee… I think he did this on the side). Hooking up electronics isn’t the only thing you can offer. But you can offer all kinds of things when you have someone face-to-face. For example…
  12. Turn shopping into an event. Hold prizes. Have a DJ in the store. Hold after-hours events. Hold demonstrations. Offer courses. Shoot coupons from a cannon.
  13. Eliminate the hassles of shopping in-store: Packaging, delivery, returns, parking, line-ups. These are all the annoyances of shopping at a store, in my opinion. These are all reasons that people don’t want to buy at a store, even if they show up at your location for showrooming purposes. So sit down with your sales staff and your store design team and the people who train your staff and figure out how to eliminate these things. Not just minimize them… eliminate them. It won’t be easy and you’re going to hate me for even suggesting it.
  14. Stores want to be stores and not showrooms. But what if you changed your thinking and decided to BE a showroom? Advertise it as such. Instead of calling your staff “sales associates”, call them “demonstrators” or “product guides”. Tell people you are a showroom and invite them to try stuff out. Hey, at least they are coming into your store. They might even be more attracted to coming to your store (instead of your competitor because you’re a showroom but your competitor has aggressive sales staff). Once they are in your store, try to sell to them while they are there with friendly, helpful, knowledgeable (some customers will buy), capture their information (some will buy later, and now you can market to them), incentivize them to come back when they are shopping for something else. You can do other stuff to help embrace this showroom idea — I’ve listed a bunch of ideas at my post: 11 ways to build credibility for your business.

Hey, these tips aren’t going to solve every showrooming issue. I’ll be the first to admit that. Showrooming was a problem before mobile phones and internet shopping became prevalent (it’s just more common and easier to do now). Business models may need to change, too, since company-owned websites but franchise-owned stores take money away from the franchisees.

But showrooming is a reality and retailers shouldn’t just ignore it or tolerate it or complain about it… the ones who will thrive in this new marketplace will be the ones who embrace it.

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