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Columbia Business School and Aimia have just produced a detailed report on showrooming, using data from respondents in the US, UK and Canada.
The report contains some valuable insights into what motivates mobile users to buy online instead of in-store, and how retailers can respond to the challenge.
I've been asking report authors David Rogers and Matt Quint about the study...
How much of a threat is showrooming to offline retailers? Is it only going to become ‘worse’? Or does the trend towards showrooming represent an opportunity for more forward thinking retailers?
DR: Showrooming (the decision to purchase a product online after looking at it in a physical retailer’s store) is clearly a threat to retailers, when it happens.
But showrooming is only one of many behaviors that our research found consumers engaging in as their mobile computing devices become a critical part of their in-store shopping experience.
This overall shift to what we call 'mobile-assisted shopping' presents both opportunities and threats for brick-and-mortar retailers. Many mobile-assisted behaviors, like information seeking, social media sharing, and mobile payments, can be used by retailers to actually help close the sale.
The aim of our research study was to get past the fear and hype around showrooming and help retailers to understand the diverse motivations of today’s customers, so that retailers can better engage them, and provide a digitally-enabled experience that keeps them shopping in the store aisles.
We believe the trend towards mobile-assisted shopping will continue to rapidly grow.
Reasons for showrooming:
Is the homogenization of offline retail partly to blame? If every shopping mall carries the same goods and retailers, is it any wonder that people compare prices and buy online?
MQ: I don’t believe that homogenization of the retailers or the goods they carry on their shelves is a key driver of showrooming. Over the past few years, some major retailers have even worked with brands to get slightly unique products, with accompanying SKUs, which do allow them to be the only supplier of that particularly product.
Thinking purely about goods and retailers, the problem for brick-and-mortar stores is that the Internet provides access to an array of options beyond what is possible for any local area to host or retailer to carry in-store. And, of course, the products are indeed usually available at lower prices online.
The homogenization issue is more apt when considering the experience provided by retail stores. For example, one of the things that differentiated Best Buy in the electronics category was that its sales staff didn’t work on commission.
Staff could direct you to the best product fit for your needs without any incentive to upsell. This helped Best Buy, in part, outlive its main US competitor, Circuit City. But, the company now faces the growth of electronics departments at Target and Walmart where sales commissions are an issue either.
As we note in the study, a bigger challenge for retailers is when shoppers avoid even going to brick-and-mortar location. The M-Shoppers we surveyed, who are spending time in stores, highlight the importance of maintaining enjoyable, engaging, and ideally differentiated in-store experiences.
Helping these shoppers use mobile technology, and the information access it provides, to enhance their in-store experience will be a key to keeping M-shoppers going to the check-out counter.
Do you think that retailers who fail to adapt to this trend, and web technology in general (not having a website or mobile site for instance) are doomed to fail? Are multichannel retailers best placed to fight this trend?
DR: Yes, the broad shift we are seeing is from a competition between bricks-and-mortar and ecommerce, to an a unified 'omnichannel' model, where retailers sell both online and offline, and seamlessly integrate the two experiences for the customer.
By understanding what our research shows about mobile-assisted shopping, we hope retailers will get a better sense of how to deliver that seamless experience.
We found consumers have a very high willingness to 'showroom' from the website of the same store they are standing in, which is a huge validation of the omini-channel model.
Walmart.com, for example, reports that 12% of its online sales now come from consumers who are standing in a Walmart store, using the customized version of their mobile website.
Are there exceptions to the trend to omnichannel? Certainly. There will still be purely online ecommerce websites, because for many consumers in many product categories, the online experience is sufficient, and its convenience is incredibly compelling.
Amazon is experimenting with a physical footprint, but it’s unclear whether it will find compelling value in becoming a true omnichannel retailer.
On the other extreme, niche physical retailers who fulfill a need that is immediate and location-based, will likely thrive with little or no online presence. Examples would include food service, florists at train stations, and bookstores in airports (at least until the FAA starts letting us read on our tablets during takeoff and landing).
In your five types of mobile shoppers, roughly 62% are either traditionalists who prefer to shop/browse in-stores e or ‘experience seekers’ who value the bricks and mortar experience. Presumably this offers hope for retailers that can deliver said experience?
DR: Absolutely, this shows that the traditional retail experience is still valuable to a majority of consumers even as they shift to habits of mobile-assisted shopping.
For the 30% who remain 'Traditionalists', there may be many occasions that they buy online, but when they enter a physical retailer, it is with a commitment to making a purchase offline.
Traditionalists are using their mobile devices to gather more information, and perhaps confirm their purchase decision; but they are not going to showroom.
The 32% who we called 'Experience-Seekers' will consider purchasing a product online, but they are not planning to showroom, and their ultimate decision will be based on a variety of factors, not just price.
The marked interest in this group for enjoying a memorable in-store experience indicates that design, service, convenience, exclusivity, and the face-to-face factor will still be critical to retailers’ success.
What are the best responses you have seen from retailers to the showrooming threat?
MQ: Walmart, Best Buy, Kroeger’s, and Meijer’s have all implemented mobile apps that help a user in various different ways while they are in a store, taking advantage of the easy geolocation features in a mobile device.
Together these apps incorporate experience enhancements including: immediate pop-ups of product coupons while shoppers browse the aisles, offering bonus loyalty points for social posts and check-ins, and mapping exactly where the items in a stored shopping list are within a store.
Other responses include expanding what a 'retail location' even means. This summer, Walmart Canada and P&G teamed up to post products with QR codes in 50 Toronto bus stations allowing consumers to immediately purchase products and have them delivered to their home for free.
Apple as a retailer has also developed a strategy to combat showrooming by prohibiting price differentiation among any other retailer carrying its products. This is a possibility for premium and luxury brands with that have an appropriate mix of retail stores and product offerings to do this.
I wouldn’t recommend going the route of the small Australian retailer we note in the report that requires customers to pay a $5 “just looking” fee for people who don’t buy a product from the store.