Opinion: How Retailers Can Fight The Showrooming Phenomenon

Photo credit: LCM – Lim Choon Meng

It’s not unusual to do a bit of research before making a purchase, and if it’s possible to get that must-have item cheaper somewhere else, then there’s no reason not to try, right? Voila the showrooming phenomenon, where shoppers check prices online while they’re still in-store, to make sure they get the best deal.

As increasing numbers of shoppers turn to this wallet-friendly method, high-street retailers – and their employees – don’t take kindly to being made redundant. Jessops famously hung the sarcastic sign ‘Thank you for shopping with Amazon’ in their windows after they went into administration, and HMV employees hit headlines when they tweeted their discontent about company job-cuts.

In today’s economic recovery, price is still the driving factor for making a purchase. And, with online retailers being exempt from some of the costs that physical stores have (think rent and overheads), they can afford to keep theirs low.

So how are traditional stores working to combat the challenge of the cheaper online offering?

1. Fees

In a bold yet dangerous move, Australian gluten-free food store, Celiac Supplies, took to charging customers a $5 ‘just looking’ fee – refunded on making a purchase – which it argued was ‘in line with many other clothing, shoe and electronic stores’. At least it wasn’t as excessive as Vera Wang’s reported $500 fitting fee for trying on a prom dress.

2. Price matching

Appealing to the purse strings, some retailers have had no option than to go a little lower. Best Buy’s promise to price-match Amazon might seem foolish to some, but their large margins give plenty of wiggle room for playing with pricing.

3. Exclusivity

What better way to retain your audience, than by having sole control over the product offering? Developing store-only lines or striking up an exclusive partnership with suppliers – like discount retailer Target – means that customers won’t have a choice where they make that purchase. Of course, there’s always a short-cut to this – enter the savvy retailers who simply change product names and codes to make them that bit harder to google.

4. Reviews

The internet isn’t always the enemy – with social media, website reviews and forums, it can be a useful tool for spreading the word about how great your products are – which is an added bonus if you’ve got the exclusivity outlined in our previous point.

5. Loyalty programmes

A lot can be said about building up a customer-company relationship. Whatever incentives on offer – whether it’s money off coupons, points or BOGOF – it’s a great way to keep shoppers on-side. Couple this with today’s personalisation technology, where incentives can be tailored to spending habits and shopping behaviours, and customers would be crazy to go anywhere else.

6. Going mobile

The recent introduction of mobile payment and location targeting are two more things bricks-and-mortar stores have in their favour – collecting data about when a customer’s near a store, beaming them a relevant offer, and sealing the deal with a quick payment.

Of course, stores will always have one advantage over the web: knowledgeable staff, a relaxing aura, and a store experience – hence why many house anything from beauty micro-stalls to cafes. And, if all else fails, there’s one more way UK retailers can bag that sale: by tapping into the awkward British sensibility and embarrassing us into making a purchase. After all, who can say no to stellar service?