showrooming (reverse showrooming)

Showrooming is the practice of going into a Brick and mortar store to see, touch, hear or smell a product in person before going online to purchase the same product. In general, a showroom is a physical space that displays inventory items for sale.

In past years, consumers have increasingly been visiting physical retail stores to examine potential purchases in person, but then comparison shopping online to find the best price. Of particular concern to retailers is mobile showrooming, the use of smartphones and tablets to comparison shop while visiting a physical store. In this buying pattern, it is not unusual for the customer to complete an online transaction from a competitor while they are still standing in the brick and mortar store.  

Historically, retailers have not liked showrooming because it requires them to support the cost of putting merchandise on display, while  risking a sale loss to an online retailer. Because online retailers have lower operational costs for things like storefront real estate and maintaining sales staff, they can often offer goods for a lower price than a traditional brick and mortar retailer can afford.

Today, brick and mortar retailers have embraced the way shopping patterns have changed and are experimenting with ways to leverage showrooming and turn it from a disadvantage into an advantage. This practice is sometimes referred to as reverse showrooming.

Reverse showrooming

Reverse showrooming is the practice of browsing online before going to visit a brick and mortar store. Retailers have accepted that shoppers will often start their customer journey online, and are creating strategies to encourage shoppers to include a visit to a brick and mortar store as part of the journey. Some retailers have begun to sublet floor space in their retail stores to channel partners to keep brick and mortar overhead costs down, while others have created proprietary product lines that are not available online. Other successful strategies for encouraging reverse showrooming include:

  • Buy online, pick up in store – a hybrid e-commerce model in which people purchase or select items online and pick them up in-store or at a centralized collection point. Also called click and collect.
  • Price matching guarantees for in-store purchases.
  • Buy online, return or exchange in store.
  • Buy in store and receive free shipping.
  • Reserve online, examine/test in store.
  • Optimizing in-store visits with iBeacons and other nearable technology.
  • Frictionless checkout with mobile apps such as Amazon Go.

Future of showrooming

As online shopping continues to grow in popularity, retailers are looking at how to use physical showrooms as a way to build relationships with desired customer segments. To that end, some online retailers have experimented with branded pop-up shops in malls, airports and civic centers.

Amazon, one of the world’s largest online retailers, has also experimented with providing customers with a physical shopping experience to increase sales. Customers can visit Amazon 4-Star brick and mortar in several states in the U.S. According to Amazon, they use customer reviews, ratings and sales data to decide what merchandise a particular store in a particular state will carry.  

This was last updated in March 2019

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