It Takes a Showroomer to Know One

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Retailers go to school on showrooming.
Retailers go to school on showrooming.

If you're in retail and trying to figure out what to do about showrooming, why not ask some showroomers? Hey, here's an even better idea: Why not ask some showroomers who are college marketing students with at least a working knowledge of your language?

At the National Retail Federation show in New York this week, American Express introduced a team of six young women from six different universities across the country, who won the Aspire2Retail Intercollegiate Challenge sponsored by AmEx and the NRF Foundation. Team members spent their spare time during their first semester meeting by computer and—fittingly—cell phone to work out a plan that could convert showroomers at the fictional mass merchant Taylor Landings into paying customers.

Now, as anyone who has ever had a kid in college knows, budget rarely enters a college student's mind, so some of the solutions proffered by the winning team might have a hard time finding funding in the typical retail organization. Still, their solutions offer a fresh approach to what some bricks and mortars retailers consider a troubling development.

The team's proposal took two of the central drivers of the showrooming trend—individual need and technology—and turned them around to the store's advantage. The first pillar of the plan is a loyalty program that identifies the personal tastes and preferences of customers. The second pillar (the one likely to find resistance in finance) depends on highly trained and motivated associates armed with iPads.

The training comes into play when associates notice showrooming in action: cell phone out, barcodes being scanned, thumbs furiously working keyboards. Associates go into action, but without being confrontational. They ask the showroomer if she is a loyalty member. If yes, they swipe her card or enter her phone number, gaining access to her account and preferences. After determining what product she's shopping, they can offer to match or beat the price. Of course, any store could do that. But the Taylor Landings associate will use their iPads to bundle the desired product with accessories to create a personalized package for one low price.

This is an interesting response to showrooming for several reasons:

  • It treats the phenomenon as an opportunity instead of a threat. As one of the Taylor Landings' team members put it, “Showrooming is inevitable. We decided to adapt instead of fight.”
  • It provides the shopper with an easy out – your price, right now, and out the door—but adds the possibility of an upsell for the retailer.
  • It fights tech with tech, using the iPad to tilt swords with the showroomer's smartphone and serve up a possibly more enticing option.
  • It can increase loyalty program sign-ups and, perhaps, create more buzz and more satisfied customers.

The Taylor Landings team also put forth a plan for an app that could link in-store interactions with mobile and online channels and make it easier for customers to locate merchandise, buy it online, and pick it up at their local store. With a little fine-tuning, a retailer could use this feature as a way to make its stores the final stop of showroomers shopping  at their competitors' stores.

Who says they don't teach kids anything worthwhile in college anymore?

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