It’s known as “showrooming,” and it is not something giggling hippies do in the woods. What I’m referring to is the growing habit of visiting a store only for the purpose of researching a product and with the intent of purchasing the item elsewhere for less–usually online. It’s also called the “scan-and-scram.” Regardless of which term you choose to embrace, you can add this activity to the list maladies plaguing brick-and-mortar retail (while benefiting online retail in equal measure).
At first glance, showrooming is a best-of-both-worlds solution to shopping. It solves a major shortcoming of online shopping–not having a product physically present–by letting you walk into an unsuspecting store and kick the tires of some product to your heart’s content, knowing perfectly well it’s cheaper online. I myself once scanned and scrammed and was left with an intoxicating combination of adrenaline, guilt, and a great deal on a jacket. I would wholeheartedly encourage anyone to embrace the scan-and-scram, assuming there were no better alternative. Ah, but isn’t there?
The Virtual Showroom
I am not an expert on brick-and-mortar retail, and besides, it’s all doomed (I’m kidding… maybe). But I do know a little about online retail, and am happy to share my view on why those who sell online might want to take a minute to think about the phenomenon of showrooming.
By “virtual showroom,” I don’t mean a picture of a kitchen in which you can change the color of all the furniture (though maybe that’s your thing). No, what I mean is making your online product pages so outstanding that they replace the need, even the desire, to go into a store… and it’s not as hard as it sounds. For certain types of items or types of people, there may never be an acceptable alternative to the brick-and-mortar experience. But by and large, a well-crafted product page can match or even surpass the in-store experience.
Don’t believe me? Have a bunch of disposable time? Take a look at the enhanced product page for this laptop upgrade kit, develop a pop quiz based on the details, and walk into a Best Buy to unleash it on some poor sales kid in a blue polo–and watch them start blubbering like a sleep-deprived toddler.
My point is, you can almost always supplant the need for a sales associate and product in hand with great content. This is exactly what we mean when we talk about “content merchandising.” As distinct from marketing, content merchandising doesn’t try to sell people something they’re not looking for; it’s simply a strategy that gives the consumer every bit of information that might help them come to a decision.
If it seems like I’m drifting away from the showrooming topic, give me a moment to connect the dots. Now, great merchandising content is a worthwhile goal in and of itself. But what if we think of superb online content as a way of snagging showroomers before they ever leave their homes? Shoppers who can’t have all their questions answered online are likely to head out to the store, where they may well get faulty info on your product or get talked into buying a different brand’s offering.
On the other hand, if you have detailed, neatly organized product pages complete with clearly stated features and benefits, customers might well run out of questions and feel comfortable buying without visiting a physical showroom–excuse me, store. Providing multiple product images shot from different angles and depicting different uses, as well as offering product videos, can help eliminate a consumer’s need to stroke, squeeze, or otherwise launch a full tactile investigation of said product.
Furthermore, a snazzy product-comparison matrix can emulate products positioned side by side in a brick-and-mortar store. Better yet, matrices can set shoppers on the scent of other models within the same (your) brand.
Showrooming doesn’t directly affect those who depend on online sales. However, studying its emergence and filling in the content-merchandising shortcomings that contribute to the scan-and-scram might lead to a very welcome boost in conversion and sales.