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The Showrooming Buzz: It’s Real

Sabrina Tharani |

You hear the buzz about “showrooming” everywhere – I personally felt its silent presence at the NRF Show in January, and even at a small NYPAY Conference in Manhattan last month. Showrooming—or the idea that consumers use brick-and-mortar stores to examine merchandise and then purchase them online for less—is one of the biggest threats to large retailers and has forced them to either embrace or combat the phenomenon.

Best Buy recently implemented a policy it believes will “kill” showrooming for good. Spokesperson Matt Furman said starting March 3, the retailer would price-match all local retail competitors, along with 19 major online competitors; he had “no doubt that this new policy ends showrooming for Best Buy customers.”

The trend sparked a proliferation of media and research, with reporters and analysts trying to “pin the tail on the donkey” about how retailers will fare in the future. For example, Google subtly hinted how the shopping experience will be changed through consumer’s use of multiple devices and Deloitte believes consumers’ store related mobile activities, like product research, will contribute to in-store sales. A new study of Amazon customers even indexed the stores most susceptible to showrooming, a list led by Bed Bath & Beyond, PetSmart, Toys ‘R’ Us and Best Buy.

But what these studies don’t capture is the evolved consumer shopping experience, with changed resources, expectations and demands. Because consumers are now empowered by technology to browse products anytime, anywhere, price comparison and deal hunting are no longer seasonal post-holiday or Black Friday behaviors forgotten for the rest of the year, but have become the new shopping norm. A recent MasterCard study found that 49 percent of global consumers will use a phone to check online prices when in stores to get the best deals.

Whether BestBuy’s policy will be successful (and/or replicated by other retailers), or whether there are other solutions that could work better for retailers and consumers is to be determined. One thing that is certain is the need to change the conversation from winning the battle with showrooming to how to optimize relationships with customers in the evolved, multi-channel shopping experience.

Topics: Economic Outlook

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