Showrooming, Webrooming, and the New Reality of Omni-Channel Retail

Photo credit: Jason Howie on Flickr.A few years ago, some retail experts speculated that mobile phones and online retailers would put many brick-and-mortar stores out of business.

They thought that these brick-and-mortar stores would become nothing more than showrooms where customers would go to check out and try on merchandise, only to purchase the items online at a better price. Thus, brick-and-mortar stores would become less profitable, forcing some to shutter their doors.

Fast forward a few years and we now know that brick-and-mortar stores are not going anywhere anytime soon. In fact, it is estimated that over 90% of current retail sales still take place in a brick-and-mortar store.

As I have pointed out in the past, Forrester Research predicts that online sales will rise in the next 10 to 15 years to as much as 25 percent of total sales. However, that means 75% of retail sales will still take place in a brick-and-mortar store.

While the prediction of the demise of the brick-and-mortar store was premature, changes in the way that many customers shop often resembles the definition of showrooming, or at least a slight variation of it.

Therefore, even though many sales still take place in a brick-and-mortar store, retailers can’t rest on their laurels.

What Is Showrooming and Webrooming?

According to Wikipedia, “Showrooming is the practice of examining merchandise in a traditional brick-and-mortar retail store or other offline setting, and then buying it online, sometimes at a lower price. Online stores often offer lower prices than their brick-and-mortar counterparts because they do not have the same overhead cost.”

“The reverse phenomenon is webrooming,” says Wikipedia. “In webrooming customers research a product online and buy in a store.”

A Broader Definition of Showrooming

In his book, “Mobile Infuence: The New Power of the Consumer,” Chuck Martin, author and CEO of the Mobile Future Institute, examines showrooming and its effect on retail.

In the book, Martin highlights the results of a 2012 study conducted by ForeSee.

This study provided insights that slightly change the way that we look at showrooming.

“Many retailers that focus on dealing with showrooming, discussed in an earlier chapter, tend to view it as an in-store-only phenomenon,” writes Martin in his book. “A key finding in the ForeSee study is that a large percentage of the mobile usage related to retail is being done at home while preparing to visit a store. This is precisely the pre-buy phase of mobile influence. This means that the actual showrooming may not be as significant in scope at the physical store, since the activity of shopping via mobile is not location-dependent. It can be done anywhere.”

Larry Freed, president and CEO of ForeSee is quoted as saying, “Showrooming is happening, but it’s not happening at breakneck speed. Retailers need to be aware of it but realize it’s just another method of competitiveness.”

In a post on the K3 Retail blog, Chris Donnelly, head of global retail practice at Accenture, is quoted as saying, “The first thing I’d note is that retailers have been showrooms for centuries… If you can’t close the deal when someone is in your store looking to buy, then shame on you. But that aside, what we’re actually finding is that the trend is increasingly the inverse. We call this ‘webrooming’, where a product is researched at home, then consumers go into the store to buy… Yes, online is the side of retail growing the most in the next five years, and we expect 10 to 20 per cent of sales to be online. But that means 80 to 90 per cent are still occurring in-store.”

According to the K3 Retail post, “Research by Accenture found that 73% of shoppers engaged in “showrooming”, while 88% of consumers used “webrooming” as a shopping strategy.”

The New Reality of Omni-Channel Retail

Study after study is proving that customers are researching the products and services that they intend to buy through multiple channels. This includes at a brick-and-mortar store, on a desktop computer, on a smartphone or tablet, via the telephone, in mobile apps, and in any other way imaginable.

And, while most sales are taking place in brick-and-mortar stores, customers do buy products via other shopping channels.

Therefore, because customers can now research products at any time that is convenient to them and are using multiple channels to do it, every transaction that includes an interaction with the customer in a brick-and-mortar store and an online or mobile store has the potential to be classified as an instance of showrooming or webrooming. The only difference is when and if the retailer closes the sale.

To complicate this further, a customer in a brick-and-mortar store could check out merchandise at one brick-and-mortar store, research prices online, and then go to another brick-and-mortar store to buy the item because the other store is selling the product for less.

Is this showrooming? It could be classified that way.

However, who really cares about how we label it?

The reality is that retailers shouldn’t care if their customers buy from them in a brick-and-mortar store or if they buy from them online. What they need to worry about is whether or not customers are buying from them or if they are buying from the competition.

Therefore, they should be making sure that they are offering the best possible shopping experience to their customers at every touch point and giving them the ability to purchase the product quickly and conveniently from wherever and whenever the customer wants to.

Final Thoughts

Retailers should be worried about showrooming and webrooming.

But, not because they care about how the customer is buying from them.

It shouldn’t be a battle between brick-and-mortar stores and online retailers. The real competition is the other retailer, not the medium or channel that customers are using to interact with the store.

As Brian Eisenberg, chief marketing officer at IdealSpot, is quoted as saying in an Click Z article, “Retail doesn’t exist without an online component and online retail isn’t as cost-effective if you don’t have a brick-and-mortar component. We’re connected all the time through the phones in our pockets, but we live in a physical world.”

Therefore, retailers should offer customers a consistent and seamless shopping experience across all shopping channels, from the brick-and-mortar store to the online and mobile store and everything in-between.

They need to optimize for conversion and customer experience in every channel so that the store is the best place to shop no matter how or when the customer wants to.

By focusing on what customers need and creating a better shopping experience than the competition everywhere customers shop will eliminate the need to worry about showrooming, webrooming, or whatever you want to call it.

Photo credit: Jason Howie on Flickr.

Chad Thiele

Marketing analyst and strategist, content curator, applied sociologist, proud UW-Madison alumnus, and an Auburn-trained mobile marketer. My goal is to help businesses identify trends that will help them achieve their marketing objectives and business goals. I'm currently looking for my next career challenge. Please feel free to contact me anytime at: chadjthiele@gmail.com.

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