I have done James wrong. I feel bad, but there’s no getting around it. Despite delivering an outstanding customer experience, furniture salesperson James is not getting the commission for my new furniture—because I got a better deal somewhere else.
“Showrooming,” as it is called, is the bane of retail locations in today’s web-enabled age. People check out the merchandise in a physical location, and then comparison shop using technology. That’s exactly what I did to poor James.
My local furniture store, where James works, has done almost everything right. Their store is attractive, their staff is friendly and knowledgeable, and their selection is good. They even have a playroom to occupy my kids while I shop. James himself was very helpful when it came time to make my final selections. We picked styles, fabrics, colors, and types of trim for the pillows.
And then I left, with my selections in my pocket, to do an online search for the exact same model. I’ll be saving more than $1,000 on my purchase by going with a different vendor.
Big ticket, commoditized products like electronics and furniture are especially susceptible to the showrooming phenomenon. Large chains like Best Buy can leverage their scale to combat showrooming by offering really low prices and other offers. Smaller chains and individual stores have it a lot tougher, as my recent experience shows. I wanted to give James the sale, but ultimately price won out.
What could have saved my business?
Competitive pricing. I would certainly have paid a little bit more in appreciation of the service I received from James, but once we got into the 4-digit savings, I had to go with the retailer with the better price.
Extras. The warranty on my purchase costs the same whether I buy it from James or his competitor. An extended warranty, a rebate, or even a discount on future purchases might have swayed me to overlook the big difference in the ticket price.
Empowered employees. James knew he’d been beat when I mentioned comparing prices. He admitted frankly that he had no power to negotiate. The fact that I could get an identical piece of furniture for such a substantially lower price suggests that there was a margin for bargaining—but he wasn’t able to take advantage of it.
I was upfront with James. He knew when I left that I would be looking for better prices—and that, if I could, I’d be happy to come back and place the order with him. But he was also upfront with me. He had no bargaining power. The price he quoted was the best he could do, so if I found a better deal somewhere else, there was nothing he could do about it.
It’s not fair, obviously, that I wasted James’s time and that he will ultimately not see a financial benefit from the time he invested with me. I promise I’ll recommend him to local friends, though, and his store will be the first place I look when I have another furniture purchase I need to make.
I might not buy anything, but I’ll at least look.