Yesterday, we looked at the popular practice of showrooming among consumers—looking at merchandise in brick-and-mortar stores, then purchasing at a lower price from an online retailer—how it affects retailers and most of all, what they’re doing to fight back!
Instead of feeling powerless to combat the things that consumers are chasing online–like lower prices, convenience, possibly no sales tax and free shipping—retailers like Target and Walmart are offering some attractive features of their own, including price-matching, free next-day and same-day shipping, layaway and easy, no-questions returns.
But are these enough? Many industry watchers say no, that brick-and-mortar retailers need to get beyond defensive strategies and begin playing offense by turning showrooming into a distinct advantage. What’s more, while major retail chains may have some room to maneuver within their profit margins, many smaller, independent retailers do not.
Keep in mind, small retailers must try to overcome showrooming in a couple of different ways: Consumers that not only purchase online but those that purchase from larger retail competitors.
What’s a small retailer to do??
First the basics. To the extent that you can do any of the above—offer layaway or a liberal return policy, for example—by all means do them to help level the playing field a bit. If you have an online presence, consider beefing if up with rich content and additional interactive features.
But the big focus must be: (1) getting customers into your store; (2) encouraging showrooming (yes, you read that correctly!); (3) giving them reasons to buy from you once they’re there; and (4) making it beyond easy for them to buy from you.
Now, more than ever, it’s critical for small retailers to connect with customers. If you offer in-store Wi-Fi, shoppers with smartphones and tablets can use various apps to compare while they’re there. You may not offer the lower price but it’s also about convenience: Could your shoppers scan your merchandise and purchase it on the spot? Keeping them connected in this way keeps them within your sphere of influence.
But beyond that, there’s the matter of turning brick-and-mortar into a real advantage. As a small retailer, you have the opportunity to offer distinctive, can’t-find-it-anywhere-else merchandise. This alone sets you apart from your larger and online competitors.
Then there’s the experience of shopping itself. Particularly at the holidays, many consumers are looking for unique, warm and memorable experiences. As with merchandise selection, this is where small retailers can often dominate in spades! How you decorate, how your merchandise is displayed, your hours, offering small cups of hot cider or hot chocolate—it all factors in to the experience you’re providing your customers.
And here are some other ways small busineses can be real standouts and capture the business of the otherwise showrooming shopper:
- Recognize and appreciate loyalty. Use text message regiatration, QR codes or smartphone apps to reach out to repeat buyers with special deals and exclusive offers.
- Service over price. Neither online retailers or many larger retailers can match the personal touch smaller retailers can offer in the way of answering questions or trying out products onsite. This is where you need to pull out all the stops!
- Reward repeat visits. Instead of offering perks or bonuses, offer a concrete reward (dollars off or a free item) for number of purchases or amount of spending. This gives customers a tangible reason for returning to shop with you.
- Talk to your customers. Don’t be afraid to strike up conversations with your customers about what it means to be a small business and all the ways you’ve made the effort to create a valuable shopping experience for them. Participate in events that educate and highlight the many benefits that small business brings to the community.
Where’s all this going? E-commerce certainly isn’t going away and is predicted to keep growing. But brick-and-mortar retailers aren’t likely to be going away either, because we, as shoppers, will seemingly always want to look at and touch merchandise before we buy.
Industry experts say, though, that retailers will need to keep being creative in order to give retailers reasons to keep coming into their stores, from new approaches in merchandising to unique products to mobile apps to out-of-the-box ways of using in-store technology.
Some point out that shopping in the U.S. isn’t really transactional; instead, it’s a pastime, it’s entertainment, it’s how we socialize. Thus the term, “retailtainment,” coined over a decade ago, has gained new favor, as retailers seek new ways to wean customers off our addiction to sales and the lowest price and refocus them on the value of things like outstanding merchandise, experience and service.
Image courtesy of Renjith Krishnan/FreeDigitalPhotos.net