Much ado about showrooming

Showrooming – the act of visiting a store to view merchandise before buying online elsewhere – is often seen as the enemy of the bricks and mortar retailer. One can sympathise with the retailer, as shoppers browse their goods, handling and trying on items that they have no intention of buying.

There are significant reasons why showrooming should be seen as a huge opportunity for retailers. The way that shoppers interact with brands and products has changed significantly and has redefined the way that we buy and understanding how they make purchasing decisions and the experience they expect in-store is key to unlocking the potential of showrooming.

Shoppers expect a seamless and consistent buying experience across all channels. A case in point is pricing; they expect to get the best deal possible and to achieve this, pricing needs to be consistent whether they engage with a brand online or in-store. According to research by Accenture into shopper preferences, 46% of US consumers aged 20-40 believe in-store prices are higher than those available online.

However, maintaining consistent pricing can be a considerable challenge, particularly for leading retailers operating thousands of stores countrywide, each stocking several thousand products. This scale means that the largest retailers could have half a billion price and information labels to maintain and update many times a year.

Electronic shelf labelling (ESLs) ensures retailers can overcome this challenge by enabling pricing information to be updated electronically, from a central location. Whereas once it could take weeks to re-price products across an entire retail estate, it is now possible to manage millions of price or product data updates within seconds, ensuring complete consistency across all customer touch points.

ESLs also enable bricks and mortar retailers to replicate the dynamic pricing seen online and offer shoppers promotional prices depending on time of day, season or locality. Retailers can now be more agile and change prices instantly and consistently, whether that's to match a competitor, respond to a sudden change in the environment or to offer time-related price points.

Pricing, while significant, is just one of the drivers behind the rise of showroomers. The shoppers' desire for information has also driven the trend for QR (Quick Response) codes can be displayed on graphic ESLs at the shelf edge, which can be scanned by shoppers' smartphones, and then link through to retailer web pages for additional product information or reviews. This can help shoppers make a more informed purchasing decision and the likelihood of converting that customer interaction into a sale then improves significantly. Research by eMarketer shows that QR codes are growing in influence; in the US, their use has risen from 6% in 2011 to 19% in 2013.

2014 is set to be a breakthrough year for shoppers and how they interact with in-store retail technology. In particular, Displaydata's ESL Bluetooth beacons allow retailers to deliver rich content that enhances the customer experience and delivers a more personalised experience in the store. It allows retailers to push promotions out to shoppers based on their buying behaviour (when combined with a loyalty scheme), helping retailers to influence shopper behaviour at the shelf-edge. Combining this with sales staff who can spend their time providing a level of service simply not available online, rather than changing or checking pricing, will ensure that retailers turn 'cost-centres' into 'profit-centres'.

Showrooming is here to stay. Retailers who can better utilise the latest in-store technology can appeal to the omni-shopper, combining the pricing and scope of online shopping, with the knowledge and service available in-store. A truly unique proposition.

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