A new report from Verdict, reported here, labels ‘showrooming’ as a myth, basing this on the finding that only 2% of respondents had bought an item online while at a retailer’s store. 

I’m not convinced, having seen plenty of evidence of the growing use of mobiles when shopping offline, whether to purchase there and then or to check prices from rival retailers. 

So is it a myth? Let’s have a look at the evidence…

What is showrooming? 

I think it’s useful to define what we mean by showrooming, as it’s a term which has been used widely, and is perhaps taken to mean different things by different people (myself included). 

It has been used as a term to cover the very act of using mobiles to compare prices, check reviews and product details when in stores, though not necessarily purchasing online instead. 

However, in Columbia Business Schools recent report, and elsewhere, showrooming means to actively choose to buy online after comparing prices, product details etc on mobile

So, to me at least, showrooming could mean finding better prices using your mobile, but not necessarily buying it while in the store.

I suspect many people would complete the purchase later for various reasons – poor connections, preferring to buy using laptop or PC, or simply not wanting to stand there in the store adding their card details for payment. 

According to Verdict’s lead analyst, Patrick O’Brien: 

Rather than making consumers agnostic about where they make their purchases, smartphones and tablets are used in stores mainly to check prices and product details. The idea that showrooming customers are wielding their smartphones in stores to purchase from rival retailers en masse is a myth.

Is showrooming a myth? 

If someone goes into a store, finds the product they are looking at cheaper on Amazon, yet decides to complete the purchase at a nearby cafe, or when they get home, is this showrooming? 

I’d say it is, as people are using their mobile to find a better deal, and the store in question has lost the sale. The loss of the sale is the crucial thing here, not the location of the transaction. 

Perhaps Verdict is missing the point with this particular statistic, as it seems to suggest that, as just 2% of people in its study are actually buying via mobile in store, showrooming isn’t a problem. 

Yes, it may be that some retailers are using it (and online retail in general) as an excuse, but I think they should be concerned that customers are using their mobiles in this way, and they should be looking at ways to adapt to this.

According to a consumer survey carried out for last year’s 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.

Q: Have you used your mobile to compare prices and look at product reviews while out shopping?

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JiWire’s Mobile Audience Insights Report for Q2 2013 found that, while purchasing in-store is the most popular for those who research in-store, showrooming may still be an issue for retailers as 37% purchase on a smartphone or tablet after researching in-store.

The same report also found a 25% increase in the use of mobiles in retail stores. 

The previous two charts only look at the use of mobile in stores, but Columbia’s report found that 21% of all respondents to its survey could be classified as ‘mobile-assisted shoppers’ who had used their phones for price and review checking while in stores. 

70% of these ‘M-Shoppers’ reported that they have showroomed (‘visited a store to look at a product, and purchased the product from an online retailer instead’ – the report’s definition) at least once in the past year.

This represents more than the 2% in the Verdict study, but this can probably be explained by its narrow definition of showrooming.

The Verdict research is contradicted by the findings of a recent Omnico-sponsored survey.

This found that one in ten respondents had used their smartphone to buy from a competitor while in store, a figure which rises to 15% for the 16 to 24 age group.

In summary…

With a number of reports, different ways of defining showrooming, and different ways of asking questions, it’s hard to get to the truth of the matter. 

It does seem that the figure of 2% of people showrooming, as Verdict suggests, is on the low side compared with other reports, but we could be getting into semantics here. 

Whether people buy from a rival while physically in the store is less important than the fact that using mobile to assist with offline shopping is an upwards trend, and one that looks set to continue.

What’s important is the lesson for retailers from this, and the steps they can take to minimise the impact on their sales.

In this context, labelling it as a myth is unhelpful, as it encourages retailers to think there is no problem.