A showrooming they will go!

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A-Showrooming they will go!
A-Showrooming they will go!

Retailers will be making greater use of technology to create seamless digital and brick-and-mortar shopping experiences--and curtail sales lost to showrooming—according to Accenture's annual Holiday Shopping Survey, released this week.

There seem to be more purchases up for grabs this year, judging from the responses of 500 consumers surveyed by the consultancy this month. More than half said they expected to increase holiday spending by $250 this year and 53% planned to shop on Black Friday, reversing a three-year decline. In the 2011 survey only 44% said they'd be participating in the first official Christmas shopping day.

More than half of shoppers (56%) said they intended to engage in showrooming (researching in-store and then buying online), with 27% saying they would likely make purchases online with their smartphones and tablets while shopping in brick-and-mortar stores. This year, however, some retailers will be deploying technology to try and capture those transactions at their own registers.

“Mobile technology is opening up endless possibilities for retailers, though they're still in the early stages,” says Renato Scaff, a senior executive in Accenture's retail practice. “Some retailers are testing mobile phone scan-and-go systems with which consumers can scan items as they shop. Retailers will know they're in the stores and can see what they're buying and be able to make relevant offers.” Walmart is one of them, testing a system that will allow shoppers to transfer scanned items from their phones to a self-checkout monitor for faster transactions.

A quarter of consumers surveyed said they would be making online holiday purchases using tablets and smartphones, an increase from only 17% in 2011. Showrooming was cited as the chief reason for the increase. One third intended to make Internet-based purchases on Cyber Monday to avoid crowds and take advantage of what they expect will be the best day for online deals. However, free shipping offered by most e-commerce sites on that day was the number one lure for CyberMonday shoppers, named by 45% of them. Another survey released this week, conducted by CreditDonkey.com, noted that 34% of consumers said they'd do more online shopping if not for high shipping costs.

Since all major brick-and-mortars retailers also have e-commerce operations, one of the big challenge for them this Christmas season is to extend their brand proposition across all channels to provide consumers a consistent experience. “Everybody's talking about channels and ‘How do we become more seamless?'” Scaff says. “Online or in-store, retailers want the consumer experience to be the same.”

Consumers, meanwhile, are becoming more disciplined about their holiday spending and more demanding about getting the best deals. “They're spending more this year because they're expecting to have little more disposable income than last year, but they are extremely focused on the discount,” Scaff says. “Retailers held back on inventories in the past few years, expecting decreased sales. Consumers remember that, and that's why more of them will be participating in Black Friday. They know it's the day they'll get the lowest prices on the high-demand items.”

The National Retail Federation recently predicted a 4.1% retail sales lift for the 2012 holiday season, following a 5.6% lift last year, but Scaff thinks that might be a conservative estimate. “Our study points to signs that sales will be stronger,” he says. “Of course, other factors like election results and gas prices can change that.”

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