As a marketer, the concept of “Showrooming” makes me angry, but not for the reasons you imagine. If you’re unfamiliar with the concept, let me shed some light on the term.
This has all the makings of a legitimate problem for retailers. IDC Retail insights estimates that 48 million U.S. shoppers will showroom items this holiday season, up from 20.5 million in 2011.
And there’s no greater posterchild for Showrooming than Best Buy.
MSN Money’s Jason Notte said it best in his article on Best Buy’s point of retail Showrooming inflection. “Showrooming says so much about where we’re at as a retail culture. Consumers haven’t grown so lazy that they’re completely unwilling to go to a store, but they’ve grown so accustomed to online pricing that they’re no longer willing to pay extra for store amenities like leases, lighting, security and a workforce full of not-so-knowledgeable folks in uniform. For Best Buy, it’s a conundrum that’s costing the company millions.”
In a year that saw Best Buy close stores and lose a CEO, the assessment seems accurate. The fact of the matter is, no price matching or fancy contextual bank card targeting may save them. They could just be delaying the same inevitable deaths that plagued CompUSA, Circuit City and others.
But is there a chance that attributing retail death to online shopping is a misnomer? Could Showrooming really be blown out of proportion? According to Forrester Analyst Sucharita Mulpuru, that may just be the case. In a Business Insider article from this summer, Mulpuru said:
“Forrester’s forecast suggests that many consumers may in fact nonetheless choose to purchase products in stores because of the immediate availability of products, service levels associated with buying in stores, or because of the fact that the products online do not have significant benefit over those in stores. As long as pricing is generally comparable across channels, consumers are unlikely to switch to another retailer or channel.”
Hold the phone…consumers like…immediacy of product availability?! You don’t say! So what are big box retailers complaining about? Well let’s get back to Jason Notte’s assessment, namely a lack of real customer service with two personal examples of stellar brick and mortar retail.
A Tale of Two Retailers
Retailer 1: Best Buy
While this is purely anecdotal, it’s a shining example as to how big box retailers don’t get it. I recently needed to purchase a new Bluetooth headset. Armed with my iPhone and the Amazon shopper app, I scanned the few that I was considering and read through the reviews while on the showroom floor. Not once while I was in the aisle was I asked if I needed help by a retail associate, nor was there any real call-to-action to use BestBuy.com product reviews while in store. Instead I did my own due diligence and when I found what I was looking for, with a price within $5.00 of what I found on Amazon, I decided to spend the extra money and walk out with my new headset.
As I was checking out, the sales associate thanked me for my patronage (that was nice I thought!), and noticed I was paying with an Amazon credit card. She then surprised and delighted me by mentioning that Best Buy would match the price on Amazon! Score! I thought…and as I fired up my iPhone to tweet in line as to how awesome the retail experience was, she mumbles, “Oh wait, the headset doesn’t qualify for free shipping…sorry, we can’t match!”
WHISKEY TANGO FRED, LADY?!
Yep there you have it. They had me, and my social media reach, ready to reward them for rewarding me, and it was gone in a poof. I had every intention of cancelling the sale and letting her know I’d buy it on Amazon, but I gave in.
Retailer 2: Apple
I’m a self admitted Apple store hater. I get severely claustrophobic every time I walk into one. Yet the one thing I can never knock them on, is the fact that their store associates are there to greet you and find you help if you need it. The other day was no exception, when I walked in and asked for a VGA dongle for my Macbook Air. The store was, as always, jammed with people. Yet a sales team member walked with me to the obscure corner as to where it was (bottom shelf), grabbed one for me and asked if I needed anything else. When I said no, he whipped out his iPhone and offered to take my credit card right there. Looking at the mass of people at the Genius Bar, I happily nodded. Upon completion of the sale, he asked if I needed a bag (I did), which he conjured up from beneath one of the display tables and then offered to send me my receipt to my email which again I agreed and appreciated. All-in-all I was in and out faster than you could blink, I never did a product comparison and I was pleased with the customer service.
So brick and mortar retail isn’t dead, it just needs to be shaken up. We always talk about how the world can learn from Apple regarding design. Well it can learn a lot more when it comes to product knowledge and understanding of the purchase funnel. Retailers work incredibly hard to get me to their stores, why lose me when I’m ready to convert? By using a blend of people skills (product knowledge, acknowledging your customers) and technology (not waiting for a customer to walk 2000 feet to a check out lane and taking their order while they’re “in the moment”, retailers can mitigate the temptations of losing a sale to online competitors. By using social media through giving their customers something to talk about, they just may keep the sale going longer than a simple transaction.