Showrooming: Minnesotan retailers are fighting mad

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Allison Schiff, web editor, Direct Marketing News
Allison Schiff, web editor, Direct Marketing News

A few things you (at least I) probably didn't know about the state of Minnesota: its official state bird is the common loon; the origin of the name “Minnesota” derives from the Dakota Sioux Indian word for “sky water;” and its state muffin (yes, really) is blueberry. One other thing you may or may not know about the state of Minnesota is that its brick-and-mortar retailers are banding together to support a new bill to combat what they feel is the insidious and growing practice of “showrooming.”

Showrooming — which occurs when consumers stroll the aisles of a store, leisurely browsing and trying out the items therein with the intent to purchase them online later at a lower price — is a legitimate problem for retailers. And tools like Amazon's Price Check app, which allows users to instantly compare a brick-and-mortar store's price against Amazon's prices, actually encourage showrooming as a convenient and legitimate extension of the shopping experience.
(Image credit: TechCrunch)

Retailers in Minnesota are fighting showrooming blight by supporting a so-called “e-fairness” bill that would force e-tailers to collect state sales tax, just like a physical store has to, according to the Minnesota-based Pioneer Press. It's not a new idea, but there's some fire behind it now more than ever as smartphones are pushing retailers to the limits of their collective sanity and solvency. But the bill doesn't seem to have much of a chance of passing, at least not during this current legislative session.

A recent ClickIQ study of 900 shoppers cited by The Wall Street Journal found that while most of those surveyed said they would visit Wal-Mart and Target to do their product research, roughly half ultimately headed to Amazon to actually make the purchase.

What comes to mind when I think about showrooming is a riff on the “why buy the cow?” aphorism. Basically, why buy anything from a retail store — big box or local — when you can handle the product there for free to make sure you like it, and then get it at a deep discount online?

Personally I've never done this, but it's not because I have some kind of moral compunction about it. The reason is simply that I don't have a smartphone.

In other news, big box brick-and-clicker Best Buy isn't fairing well in its personal battle against online retailers. Its CEO Brian Dunn abruptly resigned under a shroud of mystery on April 10 and, as was pointed out in the Direct Line blog yesterday, despite large investments in revamping its e-commerce experience, Best Buy is still getting battered by Amazon.

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