Are you a Showroomer? When retail stores fight back against the Internet, we all lose


By web gangsta | Published:

Showroom: The Saga of a Family, a Car Business and the Seven Deadly Sins
Showroom: The Saga of a Family, a Car Business and the Seven Deadly Sins

By now, Web Watch is sure that you’ve heard of the term “showrooming“, where consumers go to Target, Best Buy, or other major retailers simply to browse the aisles – cell phone in hand – with the explicit purpose to NOT buy anything that day.

Web Watch will admit, we’ve done this on plenty of occasions:  we go to an electronics department to look for a specific item — maybe so we can get a close-up of the box, or a better idea of the specs — and we do our own little bit of online price comparison.

Just the other day, we were looking to buy a new pair of shoes.  We found a pair that we liked at a sale price that we felt was fair, and we were going to buy the shoes from the store right then as we needed them the next day.

But we said, what the heck and checked our phone to see what the going rate for the shoes were online… and you know what? 

We could have saved $1 had we purchased them online from a website we had never heard of before (we were saving money if we compared to what the Big Online Names were charging).

$1, plus a bit of hassle regarding shipping and trust issues with the unfamiliar website.  Definitely not worth the effort. 

So the local store got our money regardless.  And we feel good about that.

But Target and other retailers have decided that they want manufacturers to make special “exclusive” products just for their stores that you can’t buy online at all.   They believe that customers will come to their stores to buy those exclusive items rather than try to go online.

And that’s where they’re wrong.

Best Buy has an exclusive package for the awesome video game/guitar combo Rocksmith, that features special wah-wah pedals and other in-game exclusives.  Amazon is selling the game without those exclusive items for pretty much the same price, if not a few dollars less.    Unless you’re a guitar god — and let’s face it, if you’re a guitar god, you’re not buying a video game to give you a reason to play a guitar — then you really don’t need those pedals at all.  There is practically no competitive reason to buy this game at Best Buy vs at Amazon.    (Guess where we purchased our copy from?)

The point is that consumers don’t necessarily care about those exclusive products.   A 3-song mini-CD of Taylor Swift songs?  Chances are that those will be available online through iTunes or Spotify really really soon anyway.   

Retailers shouldn’t be scared of the Internet – they should embrace it. Retailers need to get over the fact that the Internet and Internet shopping is here to stay, and the sooner they get on board with it, the better off we’ll all be.  Fry’s, the large electronics chain, recently started advertising that they’ll match Internet pricing (for specific stores and shipping policies).  Web Watch has taken advantage of this policy quite often and appreciates that Fry’s is doing this.

And why would Fry’s take a cut on profit?  Because they keep the customer in the store, they make the customer happy, and the customer may come back more often than not.  Buying online is great for things that you don’t care about when they arrive — but nothing beats being able to walk out of the store with the product you need, right then, at the price that you would have paid for online.

But can exclusives work to push more product?  Right now, the only thing that DVDs and Blu-Ray have over streaming movies from Amazon or Netflix is that DVDs and Blu-Rays have director’s commentary and other special features – those items have yet to make it on streaming, so if you’re a movie fan, you know where you’re going to get your product from.

That’s not to say that retailers should just slash prices completely to match Internet pricing — but there are plenty of examples of where in-store pricing is absolutely ridiculous compared to the exact same product online.   And if those stores need to learn a lesson the hard way that today’s consumer (and more telling — today’s kids, who will have grown up with online shopping as a way of life) will stop shopping in person and forgo the mall in favor of shopping online, then let this be the siren call.

It’s not about preventing people from shopping online.

It’s about giving people a reason to consider the local store as a reasonable alternative.  Do the online price matching.  And maybe we’ll just end up buying more than we would have, just because we can walk out of the store with stuff in our hands.