I had an interesting conversation with an independent retailer the other day. She owns a boutique, and said she is very concerned about customers increasingly coming into her store, trying things on, then leaving without making a purchase. She believes that she’s being “showroomed”, and that she’s been losing business to the internet
“Showrooming” is an emerging challenge for brick ‘n mortar retailers. It’s becoming increasingly commonplace for customers to scan barcodes with their smartphones, then check competitive prices on the internet. This has the potential to seriously impact retailers trying to compete against e-commerce merchants whose costs are so much less.
Independent retailers may be in a relatively better position to combat this, in several ways – “I’m constantly checking prices on the ’net” – but I was really struck by one thing this woman said to me – “It feels like they’re stealing from me.”
In a way, showrooming does feel like stealing. The retailer assumes the costs of making the sale, then somebody else swoops in to collect the revenue from the sale. And customers understand that there’s something ethically shady about the whole thing. As she said to me, “I really feel like customers are scanning barcodes in my fitting rooms. They certainly don’t do it out in the open.”
So, I asked her, have you come up with anything to combat it? Her reply was spot on.
“I’ve started to think of it as shoplifting. They don’t do it when anybody’s watching. So, I’m making sure that not only is every customer greeted when they come in the store, but we’re now trying to shadow every customer much more closely, though not in a lurking way. We’ve really redoubled our effort to engage every customer, make eye contact and keep the conversation going."
“I think it’s working. It’s not something that’s easy to measure. I’m sure there’s still some scanning going on in the fitting rooms, but we all know it’s much harder to steal from a friend than a stranger.”
At the core of independent retailing is relationship building. Independent retailers don’t trade in commodities, they trade in those things that connect with a customer’s interests and passions. The most successful independent retailers build their value propositions around so much more than price. They engage and connect with their customers on the basis of that shared interest or passion. Their success is a function of the quality of relationships that they build with their customers.
That gives independent retailers a leg up in the struggle against showrooming. The best weapon against showrooming in the short term just might be the customer’s conscience.