It’s a wonderful opportunity for retailers

Oh, to be a retailer in the 21st century. Shuttering half of your stores so you can afford the rent on the others. Ripping holes in your ceilings and buying organic waste-to-water machines in a struggle to become green. Dealing on a daily basis with associates with poor bank accounts and poorer dispositions. All so an army of punks with smartphones can waltz into your stores, mess with all your  LED TVs and power drills, harangue your staff for information, find what they want, and then press the “1-Click Checkout” button on Amazon

Being a bricks retailer in an m-commerce world is, even as Christmas approaches, a not so wonderful life.

But hark!  What herald angel sings of salvation from these virtual vultures? It is the Chicago-based mobile marketing agency Vibes bearing a September-released study that says “showrooming” could actually help build business at traditional brick-and-mortar retailers. Like a Groupon-happy Clarence advising the George Baileys of the retail world, Vibes is here to proclaim, “Every time you hear an electronic store entry bell ring, it means that some angel’s just got his wings.”

The big news, according to this study, is that most showroomers complete the transaction in the retail store. Nearly half of smartphone-toting shoppers at the mall scan and text for product information in order to feel better about the purchases they’re making while in-store, according to a Vibes survey of 1,006 members of their online panel. And while 23% of respondents admitted to comparison-shopping competitors’ websites while in stores, only 6% said they left and made the purchase elsewhere. Which leads retailers to the only conclusion they should ever have drawn about the “problem” of showrooming: It’s not a definite sales-killer, it’s a potential traffic builder.

From the beginning of retail time, promotions focused on building traffic—from loss-leaders to celebrity appearances to charity drives. “Once I get them in the door,” figures Mr. Bricks, “they will be knocked out by the prices, selection, and service and buy lots more stuff and come back again and again.”

Then along comes the smartphone and a consumer so educated that Sy Syms wouldn’t know what to do with her. Mr. Bricks panics, but there are two really wonderful things in store for retailers with the advent of this phenomenon: 1) Showroomers may happen into your store for the first time because you were the closest option when the urge to shop hit; and 2) Once they are in your store, you can engage them on their phones and attempt to lead them to your registers on their way out your door.

And this is where, like the ill-fated George Bailey, retailers need to do some soul-searching.  Only 17% of  respondents to the Vibes survey said they have accessed the app of a store they were shopping in. That may be because 69% reported they had unsubscribed from a retailer’s mobile database due to excessive messages or updates. Retailers, the authors of the Vibes study conclude, need to better “understand the delicate balance of time, location, and interaction when using mobile.”

Surely, retailers are capable of wrapping their brains around this problem, because mobile marketing is just the latest, greatest version of the old loss-leader. Showroomers generally walk into stores looking for a single item they are on a mission to possess. So what if they buy it somewhere else, Mr. Bricks? Let them. But you do have other items for sale in your store, right? While the showroomers are there, why not entice them with great deals on the other stuff?

It’s time to stop whining about showrooming, retailers, and earn your mobile wings.

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