“Showrooming,” the practice of researching merchandise in a store, then buying it elsewhere—online, by phone or from another brick-and-mortar business—has retailers nervous, and rightly so. Price-conscious consumers are inclined to defect when presented with a better deal.
Shoppers armed with smartphones, though, have been causing the most commotion. The number of individuals who have checked prices using mobile devices while in a store varies depending on the source and methodology, but it is fair to say that a significant number have engaged in the activity.
Several researchers have surveyed the number of US mobile phone users who have comparison-shopped via phone while in-store. Their research has found a comparison-shopping rate ranging from 59% of US smartphone owners (InsightExpress, 2011) to 25% of US mobile phone owners (Pew Internet and American Life Project, January 2012).
ForeSee Results findings from between 2009 and 2011 are consistent with this trend toward using mobile phones for in-store research; however, in 2011, the shoppers surveyed were more likely to access the website or app of the store they were actually in than a competitor’s website or app. This means that retailers need to not only be concerned about how their pricing stacks up against others’, but also about pricing consistency across their own channels.
The rise in smartphone adoption and the visibility of shoppers using phones to scan barcodes or take photos has drawn attention to the potential problems with consumers using stores as showrooms. And yet, for as long as there have been shops and ecommerce sites, this multichannel behavior has existed. A February 2012 ClickIQ survey discovered that nearly half (45.9%) of US online shoppers researched products in-store—not necessarily using smartphones—only to ultimately buy online.
Retailers are coming up with solutions to combat fickle window-shoppers, however, like providing better customer service through well-informed sales associates. Nordstrom, for example, recently began offering perks such as free shipping on in-store purchases, while Target has taken more of a stopgap approach and is exploring offering more items made exclusively for the retailer, which would make comparison shopping more difficult.
On the upside, most in-store researchers stay put. According to Pew, 35% bought from the retailer’s store location where they were comparison-shopping, 19% bought online and only 8% went to another store. If approached the right way, immediacy can work wonders for conversion.