Five Ways Retailers Can Improve the Store Experience, Combat Showrooming

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A small pharmacy owner telephoned me recently, outraged by a customer who came into the store, tested a number of perfumes, and then announced that she would buy one of them online.

She was furious because this wasn’t the first time this had happened, and it wasn’t only with perfumes. Customers did the same with over the counter medicines, vitamins, and even prescription medicines. “I see them in the corner sneakily scanning the barcodes with their phones. What must I do?” she demanded.

The Challenge of Showrooming

This is an increasingly common phenomenon in the world of retailing today—so common that it has its own term: showrooming. It is the practice of examining, trying out, and asking questions about products in a traditional brick and mortar retail store without purchasing them, but then shopping online to find a lower price for the same items.

It really seems like an insurmountable problem for all bricks and mortar businesses, and many have reportedly gone bust because of this. (In a cynical gesture, the staff at UK-based camera chain Jessop’s even put up a sign on their now-closed store windows saying “The Staff at Jessop’s would like to thank you for shopping with Amazon. Dodging tax 1% at a time.”)

You need to give your customers good reasons to come and visit you, and find as many ways as you can to add value for them.

The problems include the fact that traditional stores need to pay larger overheads, (rental and other costs related to physical premises, staff, stock and merchandise, and so on,) and also have to fork out for “wear and tear” of demo items and samples. Online stores have a definite cost advantage here, (especially in these cash-strapped times,) but also offer customers the convenience of shopping from their offices or homes. On top of that, when customers go online they can also read what other customers think about the purchase which they are considering.

How to Compete with Online Retailers

So what are the answers? Some options include…

  • Don’t stock items that are also available online… (Can you afford to do this?)
  • Or negotiate exclusivity with suppliers so that only your business can keep those products. (Probably won’t happen.)
  • Lower your prices and offer specials and discounts to compete with those online. (Slow death on the road to nowhere, but you may be able to do it with the use of vouchers, coupons or rewards.)
  • Develop your own online and mobile/smartphone strategy. Even if you only go halfway, and offer customers the opportunity to see comments from others online and in social media, it may help. (Expensive but viable option.)
  • Charge customers for advice, demonstrations, test drives and similar, and refund this to the customers who actually buy. (Will make you customers so angry they probably won’t return.)
  • Ban customers from showrooming using prominent signage, embarrassing them, or even expelling them when you catch them. (Would any business owner be dumb enough to do this? After all, it’s not illegal.)

But if you see the online shopping industry as just another competitor in your business, then the same strategies apply as with any rivals. You need to give your customers good reasons to come and visit you, and find as many ways as you can to add value for them.

There are many possibilities here, ranging from giving meaningful advice that is impossible online, (e.g. specialist running shoe shops analyse a runner’s performance on a treadmill, and recommend bespoke shoes that reduce injuries,) connecting with them on a personal level and treating them with respect, courtesy and love as you collect meaningful information about them over time, and similar strategies that emphasise relationships. No electronic dealings, even in a call centre, will ever be as meaningful as a warm face-to-face interaction between people.

But you can also give your customers positive and impactful personal experiences to achieve what no online store can compete with. In their article “Welcome to the Experience Economy,” James Gilmore and Joseph Pine defined customer experiences as follows: An experience occurs when the company uses services as the stage, and goods as props, to engage individual customers in a way that creates a personal, memorable event.

Improve the Store Experience

Bricks and mortar store experiences can or should be…

  1. Personal: involving human contact as opposed to “web-bots,” and also offering bespoke or customised products. In today’s depersonalised and impersonal world, customers are looking for authenticity. Warmth, empathy, caring and enthusiasm are essential, as is your ability to know stuff about your customers.
  2. Entertaining: surprising, playful, thrilling, “secret,” humorous, or even sexy. There is so much you can do here, even on a limited budget, (including live demonstrations, special events, road shows, and an attractive or unusual physical space or location.) You can design special themed events, and even give away memorabilia to customers to remind them about the experience.
  3. Engaging: let them learn something new, explore, offer their views, connect with each other, or even take a role in the show. Also try to involve as many of the five senses as you can, and create and emotional experience that hits them between the eyes.
  4. Boundary-Breaking: beyond the expected, innovative, remarkable, or maybe even outrageous. It can include where and how you promote your business, touching on taboo subjects, (a beautiful young lady once asked me if I wanted a “Chilly Willie,” which turned out to be a chocolate and chili ice cream,) or doing the opposite of what others are doing. One YouTube video shows a business where, instead of trying to make their website look like a store, they have made their store look like you are walking into a website!
  5. Value-Creating: since customers are giving up the advantages of online shopping, what else can you offer that makes the sacrifice worthwhile?

Perhaps the only way to counteract showrooming is to coax the customer into being willing to pay more for better value, service, delivery and experiences.

Aki Kalliatakis
Aki Kalliatakis runs The Leadership LaunchPad, a business focused on customer loyalty and radical marketing that he founded in 1989. He assists companies to implement customised service and loyalty strategies, and is often invited to talk to various groups. He lectures on executive development programmes for a number of business schools of both local and international universities, although he knows that practical ideas are more important than academic theory.

1 COMMENT

  1. Hi Aki Kalliatakis,
    I agree with your given point like

    1 Don’t stock items that are also available online.

    2 Lower your prices and offer specials and discounts to
    compete with those online.

    But The thing is in this busy schedule life no one have time to go physically on the shop and do shopping. The easiest thing is just go online and check the stuff which you want to buy and order it so why do anyone want to lose their TIME.

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