By David Fenner

It’s no secret that we are changing the way we shop and with this change in shopping behaviour, new terms have entered our lexicon describing practices that were only dreamed of a few years ago.

One of these is the term for physically browsing goods in a store while shopping for the best price online: “showrooming”.

The theory is that in essence, the bricks and mortar store has become a product “showroom” from which customers can select what they will eventually purchase from competing online retailers.

If the intent of every consumer is to get the lowest price, then the bricks-and-mortar retailer should reduce overheads to a bare minimum, shut their doors and go online, as the only winner in that game is the one with the lowest cost of sale and the largest list of items to sell.

But the question remains: why are there still consumers in bricks and mortar stores, and more confusingly, why are they still making purchases?

The answer is probably the sum of various drivers, but one reason is likely that in order to complete a purchase, we typically need questions answered that cannot be researched online and potentially represent greater value to us than simply a low price.

Let’s consider for a moment why showrooming is happening in the first place.

The pace of technological change has been extraordinary with consumers now carrying personal devices that have more individual processing power than the average personal computer had 10 years ago. With this power comes the ability to connect anywhere, at anytime, and obtain information that was previously out of our reach unless we engaged directly with a sales person in store. As such, we now feel empowered as consumers to leverage all available information to our advantage.

As bricks and mortar retailers, there are a number of new techniques and technologies that will help level the playing field. 

The first of these is to reconnect with your customer on a personal level and make them feel wanted in your stores. This starts with equipping your sales staff with tools to help them better understand and answer what the shopper is looking for. So rather than fretting about showrooming, retailers with physical stores can actually reinvigorate the competitive advantage they have: superior customer service and an exceptional in-store experience.

And against the typical grain of thought, these attributes can actually be enhanced by offering customers access to wireless internet in-store, a typically inexpensive feature which allows the customer to interact online, while allowing you as a retailer to communicate personal offers based on their previous purchases and also what they are looking to purchase either now or in the future.

This insight is gained through use of analytical tools which report back on real-time analysis of the online behaviour of a customer as they omni-shop (in-store and online simultaneously).

The expectation to be able to connect to free Wi-Fi is growing in Australia – an expectation that arises from the advantages of being able to seamlessly transfer from data-expensive mobile carrier networks when indoors. It’s a chance to offer the best of both worlds – online and in-store – to create a new era of customer service and get people off the couch and within the four walls.

Here are some points to think about when considering Wi-Fi:

  • The installation of a guest Wi-Fi network can act as a gateway for customers and store managers into a new paradigm. To make that gateway a little wider, retailers must make sure there is enough bandwidth available to all consumers, even during peak periods, with a simple-to-use login. A common tactic is to allow customers to log in with a social media account, which ensures easy login most times at the press of a button. This makes it convenient for guests to access the network and can ensure a seamless process during ensuing visits.
  • Next, it’s crucial to ensure active engagement with customers in-store through the use of analytics. Installing analytics engines behind the network infrastructure can provide real-time insight into customer habits and can provide benefits to the customer service imperative. These insights can be either combined or adapted to suit programs such as loyalty accounts or discounts to suit the consumer at any given moment as an incentive to walk out of the store with a purchase in hand.
  • Third, retailers need to fight fire with fire. Equipping staff on the floor with mobile devices is another way to level the playing field. Properly “armed” staff can assist shoppers on the floor with details on stock, additional colours that may be available for a certain product and even to compare products from another store. Having staff with a connected mobile device can assist in closing the sale on the spot – even if a certain product isn’t in-store. The staff member can access the back-end and order an item for the customer then and there, and have the product shipped directly from the warehouse.
  • Developing a multi-channel strategy is the next step. Mobile, smart devices represent a growing trend in the market. Roughly 10 per cent of a consumer’s media-viewing time is spent doing so on these devices, and it’s important for retailers to ensure they capitalise on the growing opportunities in marketing and customer service in this space.
  • Finally, developing an app is essential in this day and age. An app optimised for a given smartphone/tablet operating system is becoming more common as a platform for online purchases or product information. From a retailer perspective, developing an application enables the quick delivery of services such as discount coupons, store navigation and product location – further building loyalty and an in-store experience that cannot be replicated online.

Showrooming is not some fad that will fade over time, but retailers can flip the script and bring the online experience in-store. The advantage of an investment in four walls can be returned to the retailer – but it involves a thinking that goes against the grain by giving shoppers what they want and leveraging these tools in the best way possible.

David Fenner is the general manager retail of Motorola Solutions Australia and New Zealand.