A new TNS study across 43 countries suggests that 21% of shoppers use smartphones in store to 'showroom', 43% read reviews, 31% compare prices and 25% seek advice before they buy from friends and family.
This phenomenon has put the fear of God into many within the retail industry, woken businesses up to the link between the high street and internet and made retailers aware that they are not ready to service this reality.
According to a consumer survey carried out for our How the Internet Can Save the High Street report, 43% of UK shoppers now use smartphones while on the move to compare prices and read product reviews (up from 19% last year).
Have you used your mobile to compare prices and look at product reviews while out shopping?
Guilty as charged? I think not. Yes, showrooming has been a catalyst, but business readiness is the real problem. Forbes reported that 85% of businesses cannot share inventory across online outlets and bricks and mortar stores, and according to Compuware, 33% of FTSE companies do not have a mobile optimised website.
We’ve seen this all before. The music industry’s failure to accept the transparency and value offered by the web led to the pirates leaping into the breech and eventually iTunes and Spotify triumphing.
The last thing businesses (large or small) can afford to do is deny the rise of mobile use on the high street, they desperately need to embrace it.
I believe there are three simple principles businesses need to consider - acknowledgment, digital enablement and responsiveness.
1. Acknowledgment: let people know you know
Use point of sale communications, signage and your staff to get the message across and address customer concerns. Acknowledge when you offer the lowest price and when you can’t explain the benefits of shopping right here right now.
How does your returns policy outshine that of online retailers? If a more considered purchase is taking place, drive home the benefits of talking to an expert before you buy and highlight your in-store support services.
2. Digital enablement: appeal to the digital native, bring online in-store
Dedicate a comfortable space for customers to quietly browse, ideally offering access to your in-store wi-fiI.
The TNS report also tells us that 20% of smartphone owners are keen to receive mobile coupons whilst shopping and a similar proportion are interested in apps that help them navigate the store.
Retailers should recognise this trend and trial technologies such as RFID, NFC and location positioning to communicate offers, store maps and support services as users enter the store with their radars up. Once permission is obtained, continue contact beyond the visit.
Again, TNS reports that 13% of consumers are interested in a ‘virtual sales assistant’, who will help answer their questions in-store about a product.
The appetite for interaction is evidently present and retailers should respond to it by learning from digital and reading the signals, in order to identify which interactions they need to support, digitally or in person.
Brands that have a ‘bricks & clicks’ business model can link online with offline inventory to provide an ‘endless aisle’, ‘store-in-store’ service, stand a better chance of meeting demand on the spot and keep customers when it matters most. If people prefer to buy online, let them, but give them every reason to buy from YOU - create obligation through support and be there to talk IF they need it.
More stores need ‘greeters’ in my view, someone who makes themselves available without overcrowding the customer. Part of the role of these employees could be to guide users through these in-store online services then if appropriate, back off.
3. Responsiveness: be prepared to react to prices & flex your margins
Stores, big and small, need to devote time to monitoring competitor positions, pricing, services, return policies and offers, on a daily basis.
Counter the likelihood of showrooming by offering real-time price-matching. While Best Buy now offer this service across 1,400 stores, John Lewis has offered a similar service since 1925!
Your competitor advantage then is clear; customers get to walk away with the product there and then, at the right price and if they don’t like it, make sure to provide a flexible returns policy, in-store or postal.
Key to all of this is enabling choice – if customers want to buy from your digital store in-store then offer this option with, if appropriate, a reduced price. They may decide to pay a higher price tag to walk away on the day with the goods; either way in a zero-sum world, the retailer has turned in-store internet use into an advantage.
Finally, don’t be a commodity. Define and highlight your points of difference in service and lead on user experience, not price alone to stand apart from online-only discounters.