Christian Retailing

Working for the hard-won sale Print Email
Written by Maura Keller   
Monday, 09 June 2014 04:30 PM America/New_York

iStock_000021979803XXXLarge_gpointstudiHow to get showrooming shoppers to make their purchases at your store

In the “showrooming” game, whereby a customer visits a store to check out a product, but then purchases it online for a cheaper price, it’s all about getting people to remember your store, your products and your brand. It’s the philosophy and core behind all business development.

Developing rapport with non-buying or showrooming customers puts the big picture perspective into focus and determines where a retailer takes and makes their future. With the ongoing growth of showrooming, more and more retailers recognize the important role a well-defined strategy plays in making immediate and lasting impressions with customers in order to limit the controversial practice.

PRICE SHOPPING vice president of marketing Jason Trout cites the cost of showrooming to brick-and-mortar retailers at $217 billion in lost sales in the U.S. alone, according to 360pi, a provider of price Intelligence and competitor monitoring solutions for retailers. Trout went on to say that 2013 showed a 400% increase in showrooming activities.

“Studies have shown that over half of smartphone owners participate in some level of showrooming,” Trout said. “It’s definitely a trend that’s affecting retailers and one they should be aware of. But some studies show that more shoppers participate in webrooming, when shoppers research online then buy in-store, than those that participate in showrooming. At the end of the day, we need to simply focus on how mobile and technology affect the shopper’s entire journey and how to best cater to these smartphone shoppers.”

While showrooming is prevalent in many locales, in rural Malta, Montana, with a population of under 2,000, the Internet can play an important role in product availability and price comparison shopping. That’s why Danni Schneidt-Hill, owner of Promises “His” Coffee & Cottage Shoppe in Malta, works hard to product leading-edge products and exemplary customer service—to entice her patrons to shop—and buy—local.

“My target market is 5,000 square miles and less than 4,000 persons,” Schneidt-Hill said. “This equates to less than one person per square mile. If you are not going to town shopping, the Internet is your best friend. I don’t have a big box store within that 5,000 square miles. The closest Walmart is nearly 200 miles away.”

That’s why Promises has positioned themselves in the market as a lifestyle center of unique, faith, family-friendly products with a very interactive customer service relationship.

“We offer some unique services that you cannot get on the Internet,” Schneidt-Hill said. “Our customer service team is hands down the best on the Montana Hi-Line. We hand gift wrap with unique homemade bows on every package, offer home delivery, and if we don’t have it in stock, we’ll ship it to you free.”

Much of Promises product is trend-setting product. Everything in our store is turned at least quarterly within very little reorder of gift items, so Schneidt-Hill’s philosophy is: “If you see it, you’d better get it now because it may not be there when you return.” This sets the tone for a high-value proposition with a sense of buying urgency.

“We alleviate much of the showrooming attitude by staying on the leading edge and turning things as we do,” Schneidt-Hill said. “Guests see a new store every time they enter, so their buying mood is set even before they enter the doors. That being said, we know we compete with the Internet and work hard at matching prices when we can. However, our guests know the value of free delivery, free gift wrap, free gift registries, free gift consultations, free cards—those kinds of services not offered on the Internet.”

Living in a small locale such as Malta, the value of community plays a large role.

“When a particular group is looking for a donation for their organization, or someone needs help with medical bills, our community pulls together in support of each other,” she said. “I am learning to become more vocal in a positive way by saying, ‘When you shop local, it helps produce the wheel needed to keep the community revolving.’ ”

Similarly, Ken Flanders, owner of The Olive Branch, in Dublin, Georgia said that while his store experiences some showrooming, it is not on a large scale, and it helps that the store is located in a rural area as well.

“It is very disturbing to lose the sale, so last year we decided to combat the lost sales on study bibles, so we put them on sale at 20% off. This is study bibles only,” Flanders said. “Over time, we watched as Bible sales increased, which helped to combat the lost margins. The younger generation is constantly on the Internet, checking pricing and gathering information. As retailers, we must accept this, watch price points and realize that sometimes you are just going to miss a sale.”

While showrooming is common, retailers should keep in mind that shopping is an “experience.” If a customer doesn’t have a good experience, they can stay home, order online and avoid feeling unappreciated or pressure.

So what are some of the telltale signs that a customer is showrooming? Quite simply, you will recognize when a customer is showrooming when they give no buying signals. They may not interact at all or give many clues to what they want or need.

“Sometimes I have customers take out their camera and take a picture of the product,” said Harold Herring, owner of the The Christian Soldier, in Goldsboro, N.C. “When I approach them, they say something like, “I just want to remember exactly what the product looks like.’ But they are often embarrassed because they know that I know exactly what they are doing—showrooming.”

That’s when Herring steps in and attempts to build a relationship with that customer.

“I tell them that when I walk around my store every morning before it opens, I pray that these Bibles change people’s lives,” he said. “And I tell them that they don’t do that in online stores.”

Herring also tells these customers about the discounts he gives to military personnel and seniors.

Although he is able to complete a sale with “showrooming” customers about 50% of the time, Herring said he is seeing an increase in the amount of showrooming in the last couple of years—primarily on Bibles.
“I rarely see it on books and I never see it done on general gift products,” he said.


One of the first steps retailers can take when working with a potential customer who is showrooming is by qualifying that customer before they walk out the door. Seek to gain answers to the following key questions:

  • ?Does the potential customer have a real need and do they know it?
  • ?Can my store’s products meet that particular need?
  • ?Is the customer going to have that need met by some store and if so, when? Has the customer mentioned the name of a competitor—either online or brick-and-mortar? Has the customer formed a relationship with that competitor?

Ken Nisch, chairman at JGA, a retail design and brand strategy firm based in Southfield, Michigan, said in looking at how to tell consumers that are showrooming, the question is not if they are, but it is a recognition that indeed most will.

“But today much of this will happen pre-shopping versus in the store itself,” Nisch said. “When happening in the store, the best way to combat it is to be prepared. Be prepared to ‘tell your story’ and communicate the value that you add to their community and your complement to their values.”

Nisch said retailers should look “disrupt” that act of showrooming, not so much by looking for ways to prevent it—retailers have tried everything from blocking Wi-Fi signals to collaborating with manufacturers to slightly vary SKUs to making the product more exclusive—but rather to embrace it and win.

“That’s where the retailer has the best chance of differentiating,” Nisch said.

Indeed, Kati Mora, founder of the Plate Boutique, a retail store in Mt. Pleasant, Michigan, said that since her target audience is primarily young professionals, she often has customers who go online to check out her products—whether for a lower price or for product reviews.

“Although to some businesses this may seem threatening, we try to embrace it,” Mora said. “We encourage our customers to go online and tell us what they like about products that they find. Often by engaging in conversation about the product and sharing our expertise about it, we find that many of our customers will still buy with us because we’re willing to go the extra mile and support their shopping needs.”


Until recently, showrooming was seen as “the wolf at the door,” but experts say that many retailers are now seizing this purchasing technique as an opportunity.

“According to Google, 84% of smartphone shoppers use their phones for help while in a store, but this doesn’t always mean they are showrooming,” Trout said. “We’ve found that many shoppers are simply looking to their phones to research a product to learn more. Search engines are obviously one of the top choices, but oftentimes the retailer’s own website is also accessed by shoppers in-store. So not only is it critical for a retailer to have an e-commerce site, but that site must be mobile-optimized for today’s tech-savvy shoppers.”

Many retailers to find ways that technology can help offset showrooming, but the answer can be much simpler: service. If retailers do everything they can to make a trip to their store a better experience than a shopper can find somewhere else, saving a couple dollars becomes less important.

“Make sure associates know the products inside and out and know how to create a pleasant atmosphere for the customers,” Trout said.

Another way retailers can combat showrooming is focusing on a unique product selection. If a store carries products that are not easily found online, there’s more of a reason to shop at that store.

“So, whether that’s through creating a private label line or getting your manufacturers to offer your stores exclusive products, creating a unique product selection is a great way to keep customers coming in and buying from your store,” Trout said.

Nisch stresses that Christian retailers have certain advantages when looking at their customer’s purchase path that are similar to other retail categories where the enthusiast or lifestyle cause the consumer to look beyond the cost of product to some extent convenience. Think of natural foods, outdoor and craft categories, where brick-and-mortar stores have been able to effectively compete against the pure online channel.”

Connecting with customers on an individual, personal basis can help offset the chance of showrooming hampering sales. When a customer walks into your store, you have to roll out the red carpet, but 80% of the work is done. They are prequalified, they’re in your store, and you have about 5 minutes or less to convince them to stay and, ultimately, to buy. This is why having a strong sales team is critical.

Experts agree that teaching employees the basics of making a person feel welcome and appreciated in your store will overcome many of the reasons people shop online in the first place. As the store owner or manager, set the tone for treating every customer with respect and show customers that their dollars are appreciated.

It’s also important to remember that any interaction a customer has with your store is a brand-building opportunity—regardless of if they are showrooming or not. In fact, the more touch points a retailer uses to communicate with customers, the more a brand name solidifies in their mind—especially for those customers who choose to walk out the door and potentially purchase the same products online.

That’s why it’s vital for frontliners to make contact with the customer when they walk into the store. Say hello and pay them a compliment. And be sure to deliver some courtesy: Could I hold the door for you? Would you like a chair? Make them “feel” the one-on-one personal attention they receive when they enter the doors of your store. They won’t be receiving this type of attention when purchasing online.

As Nisch explains, the consumer always states price and convenience as the two key reasons in making their purchasing choices.

“Convenience, however, can be defined in many ways,” Nisch said. “Yes, it may be more convenient to browse the web while watching your favorite television show, and, yes, the purchase at that point as well may be more convenient. But the immediacy of purchase in the store may be deemed convenient. And the ability to learn more about a product, share views of store staff might further add ‘convenience’ to the selection process.”

But it is community and commitment that provide the tipping point to combat showrooming for many Christian retailers.
“Retailers are usually sensitive to cost and convenience, but focusing on community and commitment can be the brick-and-mortar retailer’s ‘secret weapon’ to influence their customer against showrooming,” Nisch said.

Another area where retailers are defeating showrooming is by cultivating and supporting local and “micro resources,” which adds differentiation to their stores. And personalization, a value-added service, also can provide a point of differentiation and a chance for additional income and a strong sense of immediacy to brick-and-mortar customers. Again, this is a level of service typically unavailable online.

“They should partner with resources that are most likely not available through the major online retailers, and who as well, are true ‘partners’ rather than merely suppliers,” Nisch said.

And remember, just because someone takes a picture in your store, doesn’t mean he or she is looking to buy your items elsewhere at a lower price.

“For Christian stores who might utilize volunteers or only have one person on a shift, it can be a big deal,” said Bob Phibbs, author and retail consultant. “Why? Because the reason customers are going on their smartphones is usually because no one is helping them. To find the answers, they check their smartphone. And if they find it is cheaper on, say, Amazon, they just click and are done with it. Lack of floor coverage is what makes customers look online.”

Retailers should support their customer’s decision-making process by putting all the product information at your customer’s fingertips. Take a sporting goods store, for example. Is a shopper going to buy a $400 Arcteryx jacket without reading reviews about it first? Probably not. So, post that product’s overall rating from, and Altrec, plus a few of the reviews from each of those sites. This can help a customer feel comfortable in making a purchase on the spot. The moment they go home to “think about the product and research the reviews, it’s just too easy to click and buy online.”

In Christian stores, this might apply when a customer is shopping for framed art or a pricey Bible software item.

With gifts in particular, visual merchandising may help.

“Retailers also need to work at visual merchandising—by making the shopping experience pleasurable—offering a great product in a well-lit and organized environment with sales people that are knowledgeable and can answer questions,” said Ali Levy, visual merchandiser who works with small retailers to offset showrooming in their stores. “Despite the onset of showrooming—the numbers still show that nothing can replace a good old fashioned shopping experience—where shoppers can touch, try and experience. And because we all like the instant gratification walking out with a purchase brings, many sales are still being made in brick-and-mortar stores.”


Quick tips to offset showrooming

Consumer retail expert Andrea Woroch recommends ways retailers can put an end to the practice of showrooming.

  • ?Offer an in-store-only deal, which you can promote via social media channels and email newsletters.
  • ?Price-match with other retailers and online competitors.
  • ?Design an in-store experience and offer superior customer service, something which an online shopper won’t be able to take advantage of.
  • ?Target in-store shoppers with a mobile experience and location-based deals and coupons. In fact, many surveys indicate than engaging mobile users while in store with location-based discounts through apps like CouponSherpa, Foursquare and Target’s Cartwheel influenced purchases and prevented showrooming.
  • ?Use store-only barcodes. Best Buy started using branded barcodes that prevented shoppers from scanning and comparing prices online.
  • ?Design product exclusives that shoppers can’t find at other stores. For instance, Target partners with various fashion designers to bring high-end looks at more affordable prices. Because shoppers can shop these looks at other stores, Target will likely prevent showrooming and drive more in store sales.
  • ?Make it easy for shoppers to touch and feel the goods. Those who touch products are more likely to pay money for the items than those who don’t, according to a study published in the Journal of Consumer Research. The process of touching and handling creates a sense of ownership, which influences buying decisions. That’s why open store concepts do a great job in bringing in clients and selling merchandise. People try a beauty item and love the way they look, so they buy it. Set up an atmosphere that encourages shoppers to test products and you will likely sell more.