Ever been in a shop looking at the most recent iPhone or the newest DVD release and wondered if it’s cheaper somewhere else?

I recently discussed showrooming on a panel session at IMRG Connect and more than half of the audience admitted that they’d done it. 

Although the media is hailing showrooming as the latest blow to the already struggling high street, it’s been around for years. In the past consumers would visit several shops to see which one offered the best deal, later comparing prices online at home. 

Nowadays, smartphone technology is making price comparison easier and more immediate. Shoppers are now examining products in store and simultaneously looking for cheaper prices on their phones without the slightest hint of embarrassment.

What does this mean for retailers?

Amazon Jessops

 “Thank you for shopping with Amazon” read a sign in the window of Jessops as it brought in the administrators. 

Sad but true and showrooming has also been blamed for the demise of HMV and Comet. In a world where price is everything, some high street stores – particularly independent retailers – are struggling. 

Most people don’t purposefully go showrooming,  it’s usually a reaction to unavailable stock, bad customer service or extortionate prices.

Any shopper experiencing these kinds of problems will look elsewhere. 

While low stock is often unavoidable, retailers need to make sure they still close the sale by directing consumers to their online store by providing a QR code or in-store access to an online catalogue where they can order items. 

The purchase journey needs to be simple and convenient or consumers will go elsewhere.

Long live the high street

It might sound hopeless but according to a survey by RSR Research, less than 50% of retailers are responding to showrooming. Clearly not everyone is concerned. 

Shopping is still a national pastime and plenty of shoppers prefer to buy from bricks and mortar stores, as it’s easier to receive advice, claim refunds etc. if you deal with people face-to-face.

According to Econsultancy’s Christmas 2012 report, 21% of UK and 26% of US shoppers had used their mobiles for price comparison and checking reviews: 

Did you use a mobile while shopping in stores to check prices and reviews? 

I don’t think the humble store will become extinct, but it will change. Some stores are already evolving, looking for new ways to entice people to visit their high street store instead of a website.

Fight back!

As ever, personalisation is crucial. Shoppers need a reason to visit a store, so retailers should offer consistency, exceptional customer service and something unavailable online, such as personal shoppers or consultations.

Specialist shops such as Runners Need already do this. You have your gait and running style measured by an expert, who then recommends the ideal pair of trainers for your feet. This consultation takes almost an hour, so most consumers buy the recommended trainers in-store, even though they might be cheaper online. 

Apple focuses on customer service rather than sales. Shoppers can explore the products, ask questions and be advised on their ideal product. They can also book an appointment with the Genius Bar if they have any problems.

Judging by the queues outside Apple stores for new product releases, they’re clearly doing something right. 

Extreme = idiotic 

$5 Australia ShopWith the media denouncing showrooming as bad practice and a movement which will destroy the high street, several retailers are turning to extremities to try and extinguish the trend.

One shop in Australia even started charging customers a browsing fee, refundable with any in-store purchase. This might sound extreme, but stores are losing business to online retailers and need to find a way to cover their costs. 

Other stores, especially in the US, have even blocked networks so that customers are unable to browse competitor sites to compare prices and created bar codes that cannot be scanned by smartphones.

While this is likely to reduce the chances of showrooming, it’s also going to really irritate shoppers.

Showrooming = multichannel opportunity 

There’s not really a lot anyone can do about showrooming – it’s not illegal and people are always going to compare prices. Retailers need to accept this, embrace showrooming and use it to their advantage. 

Some stores offer free Wi-Fi and encourage customers to compare product prices. If there is little or no price difference, most people will opt for convenience and buy from the store they’re in so they can take the product home there and then.

John Lewis claims to be ‘never knowingly undersold’ and other stores are beginning to price match online retailers such as Amazon.

Keep shoppers happy by providing excellent customer service, in-store offers and loyalty schemes. But you need to make sure you’re being competitive with your prices, because that’s really what it all comes down to.

So if you’re charging significantly more than your competitors for no good reason, then you deserve to lose out.