Petco CIO Herman Nell spoke on a panel about 'showrooming' — the practice of going into a store to look at products, then buying them online — at the National Retail Federation's convention in New York City.
He delivered a fantastic quote about Petco's ability to stop customers from going online after entering the store.
"We have the best defense against showrooming that you can think of," Nell told the audience.
"Anybody who comes in with the intent of showrooming, when they look into that puppy's eyes, they're not showrooming anymore," he said, referring to Petco's pet adoption program.
Now, Nell was mostly joking, and a puppy may not be able to solve everyone's showrooming problems, even Petco, since the company sells all sorts of things that aren't actual pets like food and toys.
But it represents an idea that retailers can replicate.
A product offering needs to be differentiated. And, if possible, it needs to bring out an emotional connection. That's what a puppy does. Every puppy is unique, and some can strike a chord with the consumer.
And people have emotional connections with different things — from shoes to smartphones.
"It's all about differentiation and what's your point of differentiation," explained Cheryl Berinato, Macy's director of consumer insights and strategy, who was also on the panel. "If you have the same product as somewhere else, that's going to be about price," which means they're likely to showroom and go online to find it cheaper.
Macy's tries to do that through private label brands and brands with great equity and emotional connections. Take Tommy Hilfiger, which isn't available in many places aside from Macy's, and has a solid fan following.
Still, it's not that simple, said Nell. People don't just think, hey, I want my pet to be healthy, and go buy a bunch of things they think will make that happen.
"They want to come into the store and talk to an associate who can help them with that purchasing decision," said Nell. In this way, it's not instant gratification. It's only until after some knowledge has been transferred first, and that's some value that Petco can provide.
Getting people into the store in the first place is a big part of brick-and-mortar retail — customers come in, explore, and buy more stuff. Better yet, it's hard to replicate online.
"Shoes can be like puppies," said panelist Jerry O'Brien, e xecutive director of the Kohl’s Department Stores Center for Retailing Excellence at the UW-Madison. " You see it, you want it, you buy it. then you buy more from elsewhere around the store."
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