Have you heard of ‘showrooming?’ It is something you can do with your smartphone and you may end up striking the best deals. This recent phenomenon is already changing the way consumers buy products in the United States and is actually hitting the brick and mortar retailers where it hurts the most — sales. Amy Zimmerman describes showrooming in the Wall Street Journal: ‘when shoppers come into a store to see a product in person, only to buy it from a rival online, frequently at a lower price.’
How does ‘showrooming’ work? It starts with the decision of a consumer to buy a product. The logical next step is to source the product: Where is it available? At what price? With what sales promotion offers? The consumer finds a retail outlet, finds the product of choice and clicks a picture with a smartphone. Having captured the product and all the relevant details, the consumer then simply goes online and searches for the product, punches the credit/debit card details and presses ‘enter’. The result: super savings.
The brick and mortar retailer loses a sale, and is caught off guard by this ‘smart’ behaviour. The consumer gets all the information from the retailer in an air-conditioned, welcoming ambience and switches loyalty without qualms to an online store. Who is the retailer to blame? The consumer? The emergence of smartphone technology? Or the proliferation of online stores that offer more attractive prices?
The showrooming trend does not seem to be a passing fad. There is a new breed of net-savvy consumers who have understood the convergence phenomenon in an all-together different way — telecom, Internet and technology have all merged to create smarter, more price-savvy consumers.
Who is this person? Young, old, urban or rural? In today’s emerging consumer world geography really does not seem to matter. Ownership of a smartphone and net connectivity does. The icing on the cake is the offer of COD (cash on delivery) by online retailers and even refunds if one is not happy. There is a catch though. All the products we want or need may not lend themselves to showrooming. If you know all the details of the product and don’t need to touch, feel or smell it, then online is in. What about a perfume, for instance. You need to experience its fragrance. Or for that matter a mattress?
Be that as it may, the fact remains that the joy of shopping at a physically visible outlet is a different experience altogether from a computer keyboard or a tablet. You get to see others like you. You are open to temptation. You could actually end up with some spot deals. Have we forgotten the concept of retail therapy and shop till you drop thoughts? Sometimes you could even bump into friends and relatives you haven’t seen in a while.
Showrooming has its limitations and is unlikely to become the only way to shop. I will keep it to the regular suspects — books, music, small gifts and bargain apparel for daily wear. For the rest, my smartphone is just another phone while I wade through showrooms, ogle at show windows and then decide. To buy or not to buy?