How can brick-and-mortar retailers deal with showrooming?

Showrooming is a big obstacle retailers face as the world becomes more connected. How can they combat it, ensuring they’re not left in digital’s dust? 

Holiday shopping has been shifting online for years, partially because it’s convenient, but also, because holiday shopping is the worst.

I worked at Bloomingdale’s for a couple of years and once saw someone get hit in the face with a boot.

Malls in February don’t pose the same dangers and yet, Valentine’s Day shopping is also moving online – although not quite in the same way. For instance, Google data shows that over the last few days, mobile searches for “chocolates near me” has more than quadrupled.


If Google’s multichannel data makes one thing crystal clear, it’s that showrooming isn’t going anywhere.

Wait, what? Showrooming?

Have you ever seen something in a store, and then gone online to try and find it for a better price? That’s showrooming. It’s a natural byproduct of retailers failing to integrate their online and in-person shopping experiences.

“QR codes are an example of something that could have been brilliant that never hit critical mass,” says Noah Jessop, head of data at Liquid. “There’s no seamless way for a product to jump off the shelf into an environment where you can see more information and reviews, and ultimately make a purchase on that retailer’s website.”

But while showrooming happens – brands like Best Buy, whose products have such a wide variety and availability, are particularly vulnerable – it doesn’t exactly mean the death of brick-and-mortar stores. Those retailers have one key advantage, according to Jessop.

“In a world of infinite choice, discovery becomes the hard piece. There becomes nothing quite like a place that curates beautiful cashmere sweaters on a table waiting for you to touch and explore,” he says.


OK, but what’s webrooming?

In other words: “webrooming.” It’s essentially the opposite of showrooming, when consumers research products online and then buy them in-store.

Amazon has legendary customer service, in addition to just about every product that’s ever existed on Earth.

As a result, it’s probably benefitted from showrooming more than any other company. Still, the e-commerce giant is covering all of its bases by taking webrooming into consideration.

After lots of speculation and rumors, Amazon opened its first physical bookstore back in November. Earlier this month, The Wall Street Journal reported that the lone Seattle store will soon be one of hundreds.

Are both of those words really necessary?

Yes, despite the fact that “webrooming” is a fairly obnoxious term that doesn’t roll off the tongue nicely.

Bryan Eisenberg, chief marketing officer at IdealSpot, points out that retailers can’t simply choose between online and brick-and-mortar because that’s not how the world works.

“Retail does not exist without an online component and online retail isn’t as cost-effective if you don’t have a brick-and-mortar component,” says Eisenberg. “We’re connected all the time through the phones in our pockets, but we live in a physical world.”

Nobody has quite mastered this yet and Amazon isn’t the only one trying. Last spring, online jeweler Blue Nile opened a store in a Long Island mall, where sales associates will go online with you and also bring out pieces for you to see and try.


How can retailers combine the two?

The practices of showrooming and webrooming illustrate that today’s consumers have more choices than ever before. Therefore, any retailer must ask itself, “How can I stand out?”

“A retail store isn’t for product distribution anymore. Product information has become ubiquitous – you can learn about products and price them online. So what’s going to make me want to be loyal to you?” asks Eisenberg. “You need to make it special, where I just don’t want to go anywhere else.”

How can retailers do that? There are two main points.

  • Data. Be smarter with your data. Walmart is the eighth-most profitable company on the planet according to Forbes, but Amazon has surpassed the Arkansas retailer terms of market value.It all comes down to data. Amazon may have far fewer customers, but it knows them better, if too well.One particular area retailers can focus on is looking at its existing customers, and appealing to people of similar demographics and behaviors who aren’t customers (yet).
  • Customer experiencePreparing to open a brick-and-mortar store, Steve Jobs asked people about the best customer service they’ve ever received.

    The Ritz-Carlton came up often enough that employee training was based on the hotel chain.

    The first Apple stores opened back in 2001, well before ecommerce was commonplace, which goes to show you that for all retailers, customer experience needs to come first and foremost.

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