Holiday bargains abound online, so when shoppers take out their smartphones in your store, you could be about to lose a sale. That is, unless you encourage them to buy from you right on the spot.
About 20 percent of U.S. adults expect to visit stores this holiday season to check out products, and while still in the store, to comparison shop for -- and possibly buy -- those products via their phones from a competitor, according to a recent survey by Framingham, Mass.-based marketing intelligence firm IDC. This practice, known as 'showrooming,' is expected to grow by more than 20 percent next year and by nearly two-thirds by 2015, IDC says. Big-ticket items such as sofas and flat-screen TVs are most likely to be showroomed, followed by apparel and footwear.
Over Thanksgiving weekend, for instance, one in four online buyers used a mobile device, and 13 percent of them made their purchases while inside a retail store, says Bizrate, a Los Angeles-based provider of tools for online retailers.
So how can retailers counter this showrooming phenomenon -- or even better, make money from it?
Provide great customer service: Excellent service is one potential advantage for brick-and-mortar retailers. IDC noted that 56 percent to 60 percent of "shoppers with their smartphones in-hand say that they will be 'more likely' or 'much more likely' to buy" what they find in the store as they shop this season when assisted by trustworthy knowledgeable store associates.
Offer competitive prices and shipping: Showrooming shoppers also are more likely to make an in-store purchase if in addition to competitive prices, the retailer offers superior shipping and delivery options, especially same-day local delivery, according to a report by Edgell Knowledge Network (EKN) and eBay Local.
Consider offering price-matching deals to showrooming shoppers. EKN suggests that retailers could "license data from price aggregators to ensure that salespeople on the floor are always up to date with the latest competitive pricing information." It's wise to train salespeople to be alert to showrooming behavior and approach those shoppers with appealing offers.
Monitor your online reviews: Showrooming shoppers often use their phones to check ratings and reviews for products they see in stores. This can work in your store's favor if you're selling well-reviewed products. It might be worthwhile to check Amazon and other popular online retailers to see how the products you stock are rated -- as well as how competitive your prices are.
Be aware if some of your products generally get poor reviews online; your sales staff may have to answer more questions about these or know which benefits to highlight. Also, if some of your products consistently get bad reviews or ratings across many sites, there's probably a reason. You might want to consider replacing them with other offerings.
Go mobile for tracking inventory: If your inventory data is accessible via a mobile app, sales staff might be able to use a smartphone or tablet to instantly confirm product availability for customers. You also might consider putting real-time inventory data on your mobile app or mobile-friendly website.
If your mobile-friendly website or app does allow shoppers to look up inventory status and other details about your products and services, promote that fact on store signs and in your ad campaigns.
Consider in-store QR codes: Posting quick response (QR) codes can make it easier for shoppers to access your online information about specific products and deals. But because many consumers still aren't familiar with how QR codes work, sales staff should be prepared to demonstrate how to scan the codes or even do it for customers, showing them the results on a smartphone or tablet.
Retailers also might use mobile-friendly platforms and services designed to support local stores. For instance, Swarm lets retailers offer special mobile deals to customers inside their stores. And Retailigence helps stores reach shoppers in the vicinity who are searching for specific products on their smartphones. Prices vary depending on the size of your business or number of locations.
Stay ahead of the curve: Looking ahead, retailers should be aware that showrooming could change their entire way of doing business. EKN notes that the men's apparel company Bonobos has opened "reverse showrooming" stores in New York City and Los Angeles. These stores are "designed to be showrooms where you can try on your favorite style and size (they have one SKU of each), but all sales are made online."
Might a small retailer do something similar? Perhaps. Affiliate marketing is already a popular and viable model for online-only sales. For instance, many bloggers have Amazon Associate accounts, and earn a small commission whenever you buy a product by clicking a link on their website. But there's no reason an affiliate of an online vendor couldn't operate a retail showroom with sample products, or at least display some sample products available for online-only purchase alongside products shoppers can buy and carry out.