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When shopping around for the best deal across online and offline channels, consumers are often given a simple yet frustrating choice: convenience or price.
This is particularly true when it comes to price match guarantees offered in brick-and-mortar stores, which often restrict the price match to a price offered by another brick-and-mortar retailer.
But this year, Best Buy is changing that. In an apparent bid to make sure the showrooming phenomenon doesn't put a dent in its offline sales, the consumer electronics retail giant will, for a limited period of time during the crucial holiday shopping season, match the prices of online retailers in-store.
There are some catches. Some, such as the fact that Best Buy won't match the prices of obscure online vendors, aren't surprising. But others, including a blackout date lasting through Cyber Monday and a catch-all "when it makes sense" clause giving store staff the ability to decide if and when to match online prices, limit the appeal of the offer and deserve a large asterisk.
A sign of things to come?
While Best Buy's CEO, Hubert Joly, says that claims about showrooming are overblown, the retailer's online price match initiative during the most important time of the year does suggest that Best Buy recognizes the phenomenon is real, and wants to make sure that it's more competitive this holiday shopping season.
Showrooming, of course, won't go away when the New Year arrives, and as such, it's worth considering that Best Buy's move could be a harbinger of things to come. That's because, for many if not most consumers, it doesn't matter if a product costs $499.99 at another brick-and-mortar store or through an online retailer. So when it comes to price match guarantees, why should retailers committed to the omni-channel model care about the channel?
The answer: they shouldn't, and if they're going to be successful in creating compelling omni-channel experiences, they'll have to get comfortable with the notion that they're competing in what effectively amounts to a channel-agnostic consumer shopping environment.
Of course, price is just one piece of a compelling omni-channel experience, and some retailers will have an easier time finding a profitable balance than others. As Jonathan Marek, SVP at business analytics firm Applied Predictive Technologies, has noted, retailers like Wal-Mart can focus on being a "best showroom" because they "can boost their online offerings plus sell a lot of other stuff to customers who come in to browse electronics." Best Buy, which is focused on selling electronics, simply can't.