29 Oct 2012
For a while, the rise of a practice dubbed 'showrooming', in which consumers visit retail locations to evaluate products before returning home and purchasing online, was causing a serious dent in the sales figures for physical stores. The most common example is found in electronics store chains, where price volatility, competitor price monitoring and consumers' technical know-how combine to exaggerate the effects of showrooming. Not only does this hurt sales numbers, but it effectively reduces the value of the investments that retailers have made in their retail locations by turning them into nothing more than giant showrooms for their competitors' online storefronts.
However, most major retail corporations feel they're beginning to get a handle on showrooming by offering 'in-store only' items and special in-store deals to counter the practice, while others look towards improving the quality of their customer service or towards carefully matching competitor pricing from the online world. All of these tactics have met with some success, but it is this final point – online price monitoring and matching - that says something fundamental about the changing ways that consumers are interacting with the whole process of shopping.
The simple and painless availability of price comparisons and product comparisons using smartphone apps and mobile internet access has changed the retail landscape, and the greatest customer service in the world isn't likely to overpower the value of finding a lower price at an online store. The practice of in-store only items could work – provided that you're the only retailer stocking the item, which is increasingly unlikely, and in-store deals are mitigated by the online-only deals that are being leveraged as part of many retailers' social media campaigns. Consumers are looking to get the best possible deal, and they're willing to go to great lengths to achieve it, especially on major purchases such as electronics and appliances.
Many retailers expect that their online sales segments will grow faster than both their overall sales and in-store sales numbers, making online shopping a prime target for continued focus and improvement, especially in regards to the mobile shopping experience. The traditional boost in holiday sales this year is likely to be somewhat mitigated by the uncertainty surrounding the upcoming US presidential election and the shaky world economic outlook, but the most likely outcome of that situation is to cause consumers to be even more cautious about their purchasing decisions.