Some recently published research indicates that smartphone users keep their devices within arm’s reach 90 percent of the day. Can you imagine? So, it should be no surprise that smartphone use has invaded every aspect of our lives, from communications to entertainment to shopping. As a retailer, we are naturally concerned and intrigued about how smartphone use is translating into the practice of “showrooming.” This is when customers bring their devices into your retail store and use either search engines or price comparison apps to determine if they are getting the best price. They can scan bar codes or just type in SKU numbers to retrieve this pricing data and make their purchasing decision. The worst-case scenario is that they buy from a competitor online while in your store.
What we as retailers must understand is that showrooming and its variations are simply a natural evolution of the educated consumer. Customers have made price comparisons since the dawn of time, when entrepreneurial cavemen sold arrowheads in primitive stalls next to each other. It is the nature of what we do. Technology has made price-shopping more immediate, and some would see this as an affront, that customers dare to price-compare in our very own store, but in fact we should be glad they are even in our store to begin with.
So, other than making customers check their phones at the door (it’s been considered!), the savvy retailer has no choice but to turn this potential pitfall into a sales advantage. After all, consider some of these other statistics:
The Google study from April 2013 (“Mobile In-Store Research: How in-store shoppers are using mobile devices”) goes even further, stating that the 80 percent of shoppers using mobile devices in-store are shopping for an average of 15 minutes, and amazingly, 1 in 3 use their phones for help in-store instead of asking a sales associate. While they are in the store, they are less likely to use the store’s app. Instead of going directly to the store’s site or app, 82 percent of shoppers use search engines or some kind of price-comparing application for browsing product information.
Another important aspect to showrooming is its opposite action, “webrooming.” Webrooming is when customers research products online before going to a brick-and-mortar store for a final evaluation and purchase. It’s no more than browsing online to find a good deal locally. While 73 percent of shoppers have said they have engaged in showrooming in the past six months, even more shoppers (88 percent) have engaged in webrooming. Webrooming is actually an opportunity to provide information online, while showcasing the physical store experience as the educated consumer’s final destination.
It’s not as bad as it seems, actually, as research indicates that in-store smartphone users may actually buy more (up to 50 percent more, in fact) as long as the experience is consistent between the brick-and-mortar and mobile website platforms. Smartphone shoppers who have a good mobile experience can be 14 to 15 percent more likely to convert into in-store sales. The educated consumer is looking for the mobile experience to support the expectations they have while in the store. They are looking for an omni-channel experience, of which showrooming and webrooming are obvious manifestations. Omni-channel commerce is when we deliver a cohesive shopping experience that reinforces our brand and unique value proposition to the customer. These are the benchmarks of omni-channel commerce:
- Marketing channels or silos are indistinguishable: Brick-and-mortar to catalog to web, all channels deliver the same content and same message.
- Device Agnostic: Device and location simply do not matter to the user due to responsive design.
- Allows the customer to pick back up where they left off, be it store to web (showrooming) or web to store (webrooming) or mobile to PC to iPad.
To complete our picture of omni-channel retailing, we need to understand two other dynamics:
- MORE (Multi-Directional Omni-Channel Retail Evolution) Certain retailers are now recognizing the advantages of a brick-and-mortar presence and are evolving into true omni-channel players, such as Sigma Beauty (store in Mall of America), Warby Parker (store in Manhattan) and US-Mattress.com (four stores and counting). If these savvy retailers see an advantage to brick-and-mortar and are embracing showrooming and webrooming, you already have an advantage simply by having a store.
- Responsive Design: According to Google, 2 out of 3 smartphone shoppers start at one device and continue onto another. Responsive design (RD) is important because it further breaks down barriers for the user, not between physical locations, but across devices. There are many challenges inherent to RD, since the objective is to keep the site proportional across all screens, but rapid leaps in programming are allowing even smaller scale operations to move towards RD with relative ease.
If the educated consumer is driving omni-channel retailing, our response needs to be one of aligning the customer experience across all channels. We need to remember that even though customers use more than one channel (web, catalog, mobile, store) to make a purchase, they themselves don’t see or consider channels. What they do consider is the best solution to their need, which is to get the best total experience for their money.
Here are a few concrete steps we can take to embrace new educated consumer dynamics:
- Mobile is an important tool for retailers to incrementally drive traditional in-store sales. You can do this with on-site coupons, special promotions or other discounts that appear only on your mobile site. But don’t be stingy—let customers know about different cross-channel promotions if they are shopping in your store. You’ll have a customer for life.
- Use Google Plus and Bing Local to your advantage. If your customer is searching for reviews about your business while in your store, make sure your presentation is perfect, with updated pictures, customer reviews, and yes, in-store coupons.
- Use paid search that is geo-targeted and device-specific. With Google Enhanced Campaigns, you can do this easily. Bid more for mobile devices in your local area (it won’t cost much more). Make your showroom floor device-friendly. You don’t hear too much about QR codes now, but they can be used on price tags to ALLOW for price comparisons when it makes sense. Or send customers to reviews on your site for that product.
- Offer a Wi-Fi hotspot in your store (obviously not your company Wi-Fi network) named after your store or business, so it will register on their device.
- Have large-screen TVs tied to your app or website to distract in-store customers from device usage.
- Offer price matching where you can, but within reason. Offer other specials like financing or free expertise consultations to make up for those instances when you cannot price match.
- Create grouped products, such as a table and chair set, which can make price comparisons more difficult. It helps to add accessories or other items that you can cross-merchandise, which can make showrooming an impossible task.
- Stay locally relevant and make sure your customer notices. Display your local accomplishments, such as your BBB rating, your participation in local charities and your length of time in business. The purchasing decision is not always about price 100 percent of the time. Sometimes the “feel good” aspect of a purchase can be quite significant.
- Break down compartmental thinking in your organization. Sales should think of the customers’ needs and expectations, and not where the customer originated. Additionally, you must have the same high-quality customer service communicating across all channels. Consumers view all facets of your operation as one brand.
- In-store expertise is everything! Make sure your sales associates understand the competition across all channels. Further educate your sales staff to explain all the advantages of buying local, in-store, from you—it’s not just product expertise and the ability to show the product in-person, but also your ability to deliver and service the product if there is an issue.
Remember to keep some perspective during this turbulent time. Marketing channel silos have been disrupted across all industries and, according to Google, mobile use in stores is not category-specific. All retail verticals experience showrooming and webrooming as the natural evolution of the educated consumer. There is just as much opportunity to bring shoppers into your store through your online presence as there are challenges with in-store smartphone use. The savvy retailer will deliver a consistent value proposition across channels and across devices—wherever the customer chooses to engage us!
Richard Sexton is the founder and CEO of Carolina Rustica, a furniture and lighting store in Concord, North Carolina. To learn more about the company, visit www.carolinarustica.com