As a business trend and a disruptive force in retailing, e-commerce seems to move in only one direction: toward displacing brick and mortar retail business. The line on e-commerce is that it upends all our industry’s careful research tying profitability to location, and that it promotes “showrooming”, where consumers, armed with smartphones and cutthroat price standards, use retail floor space only to browse products, placing the actual orders only when the lowest price has been found online – even a couple of bucks and any competitor will do.
We’ve reported lots of research about showrooming here, none of it especially good news for people who are invested in retail using 1990s-era assumptions about commercial real estate. There’s not been much pushback from the e-tailing community about the fundamental assumptions concerning showrooming. Until now.
In his piece for RetailCustomerExperience.com, Doug Stephens mentions that Bizrate, a major name in e-tailing business, has conducted a survey of 9,000 online shoppers and found that fears about showrooming are overblown.
A recent and relatively robust survey from Bizrate of 9,000 shoppers who had just consummated an online purchase, concluded that even among the relatively small percentage of shoppers who actually showroom (almost 80 percent do not), the majority end up buying from that same retailer’s online store — not from a competitor, as we are often led to believe.
Now, does this mean that consumers aren’t making better use of the data at their disposal via mobile devices? Certainly not. Plenty of studies have confirmed the growing influence of mobile on pre-purchase and in-purchase behavior. And that’s only likely to continue. What it does suggest however, is that just like restless leg syndrome isn’t the likely cause of most lost sleep, showrooming isn’t the cause of most lost sales — not yet anyway.
So what’s the real problem?
From my point of view, it’s that we live in a world of one-click convenience and no one really needs what you sell anymore. They do however, need why and how you sell it. But if your store isn’t substantially differentiated or remarkable enough to hold a distinct and powerful position in the consumer’s mind and win their love and loyalty, you’re going to lose sales to online players every day. Not because consumers are sneaky, not because showrooming is rampant and not because technology is evil. But because your business and the shopper experience you’ve offered simply aren’t compelling enough to command the sale.
So don’t be taken in to believing that you’re being afflicted by some new, obscure condition. And don’t look for a pill to miraculously cure you. There isn’t one I’m afraid. Instead, go back to the drawing board and ask,”What does my business offer the world that it can’t get elsewhere?”
If you can’t come up with an exceptionally good answer, showrooming isn’t your real problem at all.
Frankly, I have a hard time taking at face value the e-commerce industry’s findings that it’s just off in the corner doing it’s own thing and not poaching business from retailers. The problem is complex and convenience absolutely affects choice in ever-expanding terms.
But the bolded part above – about consumer value – seems to me to be an eternal law of all commerce, whether e- or…not-e.