The shoppers are showrooming but retailers’ best hope is in helping them

In this guest post, Ed Commander warns that consumers are using their smartphones to beat the retailers, but mobiles still offer new opportunities.

Two weeks ago I had, yet another, miserable, frustration-filled shopping experience in Sydney. I won’t go into it, but it was the usual (service, selection, value, environment).

While the rumours of retail demise are greatly exaggerated, I find myself acknowledging that it’s fully sick. And not in the good sense.

Yes – the strong Aussie dollar is driving people to purchase online. The danger to physical retailers is that those who never used to shop online, are getting used to it.

They’re (maybe) discovering that the choice, value and convenience suits them and it’s possible that they’ll stick with it long after our dollar returns to historical norms, because online shopping will still have both more selection and more convenience.

Particularly with mobile.

M-Commerce (including sofa shopping using tablets) is absolutely having an impact on shopping and the path to purchase. The point of sale is just as likely to be in a shopper’s hand as it is in-store.

And there is evidence that shoppers are using mobile more in the latter stages of the purchase funnel – i.e. for evaluating and buying. According to Ipsos in Europe, 28% of those surveyed vs 5% in 2010 not only researched, but went on to purchase via a mobile device.

M-commerce is compressing the path to purchase. Multi-channel shopping behaviour that often took days, can now be completed in a matter of hours or minutes, anytime, anywhere.

And that’s where Showrooming comes in.

To ‘Showroom’ means to visit a store – online or offline – for research purposes only and then purchase elsewhere, wherever the best value can be found.

In fact the incredibly scientific poll among our under 30’s in the office revealed that nearly all the women had showroomed AND purchased in store through m-commerce. That is…while in the change room, they tried something on, liked it, went online and purchased it for less online.


It’s a shame really. It’s all becoming very transactional and delivering yet more data that gets shoved under the proverbial marketing mattress or leaned upon lamp-post style, like David Ogilvy’s drunkard.

Now I am not suggesting for one minute that Bob is standing in Woolies comparing the price of washing powder. But for higher engagement purchases, the evidence is there.

As more purchases are made from handsets and tablets, this is simultaneously transforming the role of stores from retail outlets into product showrooms for prodding and poking around the purchase options.

But Showrooming presents as much opportunity as it does threat.

Retailers can explore how they can best enable the shopper to make their purchase decision using m-commerce, not disable it. Think 3G/4G signal boosters in store, mobile charging points, virtual mirrors and store specific apps and tools.

Are they risking losing a sale? No more than if they do nothing. And with it there are price-matching opportunities, automated support, the power of ‘now’ (i.e. take it home today), and of course the peer group affirmation that mobile allows.

Walmart for instance, recently revealed that @Walmart Labs – their social media / ecommerce unit, has purchased Small Society, a company which develops leading edge apps. Lets see what they come up with…

For brand owners, one of the keys to understanding how to address this trend will be understanding the purchase decision journey – verifying and then mapping the shopping missions, mindsets, purchase triggers, decision steps and barriers to purchase across multiple categories and channels will help identify where and when the points of influence need to be.

It can also pinpoint how, where and when to deliver the right levels of interaction – physical, virtual, social, mobile or otherwise. The days of 360 degree communications are over where the goal was to simply surround the consumer with a message and then fashion a tactical sharp end at POS.

It’s now more important than ever that retailers, brand owners and their agencies to simplify mobile for shoppers and understand what best-in-class shopper marketing effectiveness looks like for mobile.

Ed Commander is the managing director of G2. Note: With thanks to Phil White – G2’s shopper marketing planning director from whom I have stolen bits.



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