8 Surefire ways retailers can beat showrooming

Ask any brick-and-mortar store in the 21st century about their biggest frustrations, and you’ll likely hear about “showrooming”, the consumer practice of examining products in a store, only to purchase them for a lower price online.

If your business is affected by showrooming and you feel that you’re losing your customers to e-commerce or even mobile commerce sites, don’t fret. There are a number of steps that you can take to keep customers in your store.

1. Provide a more modern in-store experience

In order to stay relevant, retail stores must reinvent themselves and provide unique and noteworthy experiences to their customers. You need to give them something more than just the ability to buy things from your store, because as the e-commerce industry has proven, consumers can make purchases from just about anywhere these days.

It’s important—now more than ever–to think outside the box and move beyond the traditional ways of operating a retail store. Find ways to incorporate technology into your shop and make the shopping experience easy, modern, and fun for consumers.

For instance, the Nike FuelStation in London has iPads embedded in its walls to help shoppers browse products and design their own shoes. It also has some cool LCD walls that change colours and move with the customers as they go about the store.

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Or consider C&A Brazil, a fashion retailer that uses special hangers that display the number of Facebook Likes each item has received. On top of providing an interesting and novel experience, these hangers also assist customers in deciding which items to purchase by giving them real-time social proof while they’re inside the store.

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The digital touches demonstrated above create unique experiences that shoppers won’t find in other retail stores, let alone online. Try to aim for that when incorporating technology in your location.

Note that you don’t always have to go for big LCD walls or fancy tech gimmicks to improve customer experience. Simple actions, such as giving your staff mobile POS devices so they can process payments or assist people from anywhere in the shop can do wonders for shoppers and your business.

2. Employ likeable experts instead of sales people

The main trump card that brick and mortar stores have over ecommerce sites is–and will always be–personal interactions. That’s why it’s essential that you employ people who understand and know how to use this advantage.

Educate your staff to become “likeable experts” instead of salespeople. Teach them to help, and not sell. Instill in them that customer satisfaction and experience trumps profits.

How do you do this? For one thing, don’t make them work on commission because it will only incentivize them to sell more expensive products instead of really helping customers.

The right training is important. Teach your staff to put customers’ interests before revenue. Educate them about your products and make sure they know your company inside and out so they can effectively explain things to shoppers.

Apple is a prime example of a business that does this well. As Ron Johnson, its former VP for Retail said, people choose to buy products at Apple Stores instead of Best Buy, Walmart, or Amazon (despite the fact that these competitors often offer lower prices) because of the experience that its staff provides.

“The staff isn’t focused on selling stuff, it’s focused on building relationships and trying to make people’s lives better,” Johnson said.

3. Remove any check out barriers

Customers leave stores for a number of reasons; not just because they found a lower price online. Often, the prospect of waiting in line or dealing with inconvenient checkout processes is enough to send customers away.

Prevent this by ensuring that your checkout process is as quick and smooth as possible. Accept more payment types on top of the usual cash and credit, such as mobile or PayPal payments.

Also consider adding more POS terminals to eliminate lines. If you’re still using clunky cash registers that put huge barriers between you and your customers, why not get an iPad POS instead? It’s sleek, compact, and it paves the way for more engagement between you and customers.

4. Sell the brand, not just the merchandise

Exert more effort in branding and avoid commoditizing your products. What makes you unique? What emotions or thoughts can you evoke in your customers? Identify these things and use them as selling points. Use them to attract customers who can relate to your brand and messages.

In doing so, you will not only differentiate your business from competitors, but you’ll establish a deeper connection with your customers and gain more loyal patrons.

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Case in point: Urban Outfitters sells more than just apparel or stuff for the home. Through its unique branding, design, and the attitude of its staff, this retailer goes beyond merchandise and instead sells a hip, urban lifestyle.

There’s just something about the way the store markets itself that gives it a strong hip vibe. Sure, consumers can probably find similar clothes online, but since those items don’t have the Urban Outfitters oomph, shoppers choose to swing by UO stores instead.

5. Hold in-store events

Want to bring in more people to your store? Then invite them to come in. Hold special events such as sales or anniversary promos to entice people to walk thru your doors. Or why not hold an event in the name of a good cause?

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Take the Disney Store, for example. To celebrate Earth Day 2011, the retailer invited people to come in and bring 5 plastic bags to be recycled. In return, the Disney Store gave away free reusable tote bags to shoppers. In addition, the store also held fun activities, such as Earth Day-themed scavenger hunts for the kids.

6. Treat mobile as your friend & offer free WiFi

It’s easy to blame smartphones and tablets for all your showroooming woes. After all, without them, people wouldn’t have such an easy time checking prices and switching stores.

Be that as it may, instead of alienating mobile, find ways to embrace it and use it to your (and your customers’) advantage.

Offering free WiFi may seem counter-intuitive. Why make it easier for customers to browse the web while they’re inside your store? However, the practice can actually attract people into your shop. Customers are conscious about using up their data plans, so they’ll be happy to grab a chance to access the web for free. Give customers that opportunity, and they’ll flock towards your location.

Having free WiFi also enables you to capture more information about customers. You can ask for shoppers’ email addresses before connecting, and they usually won’t mind providing that information in order to go online.

In addition, offering in-store WiFi will allow you to send text or email promotions while users are connected. Research shows that shoppers actually appreciate this. Studies from OnDeviceResearch indicate that “74% of respondents would be happy for a retailer to send a text or email with promotions while they’re using in-store wi-fi.”

7. Create a mobile app or website

Aside from giving your customers an interactive way to browse your products, having a mobile app or site opens up more ways to connect with users and allows you to touch base with them even when they’re on the go.

You can also use your mobile app or site to provide convenient services such as in-store pick up for online purchases, store locators, checking-in capabilities, and more.

Or why not use your site or app to provide coupons and deals? Doing so can actually drive customers into your store instead of the other way around.

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Take a look at what Target is doing. Using its Cartwheel app, the retailer allows customers to find deals on stuff that they buy regularly. To redeem the offers, the shopper simply needs to head to a Target location and scan the app’s barcode at checkout to apply the savings.

8. Implement in-store mobile marketing

Also known as “proximity marketing”, in-store mobile marketing utilizes a technology called Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) to transmit data to other BLE-enabled devices. Retailers implementing this type of marketing use devices called “beacons” to communicate with shoppers’ mobile devices and send tailored, real-time deals.

In addition, beacons can also be used to create indoor maps and help customers find their way around a store.

A great way to get a glimpse of the technology in action is to look at what Major League Baseball is doing. According to Mashable, MLB has been working closely with Apple to further enhance its app for people attending the games.

In a demo last month, MBL showed how its app can send custom messages and notifications depending on where individuals are inside the stadium. For example, as a user nears the gates, the app would automatically display a map towards their seat. Similarly, if the user enters a team store, the app would send out discounts specifically for that shop.

MLB’s app can also detect if a person is a first-time visitor or a long-time fan and send custom deals accordingly.

Interested in implementing the same technology in your store? Don’t worry, you don’t have to be chummy with Apple to be able to get beacons into your shop. A number of companies, such as PayPal, Estimote, and Swirl have already introduced their own beacon solutions for retailers. Be sure to look into what they have to offer to see what’s right for your store.

The bottom line

The key to beating showrooming isn’t to push back. While the knee-jerk reaction is probably to blame or even ban technology, it’s a lot easier (not to mention more effective) to find ways on how you can work with mobile and other digital tools in order to bring back–and keep–people in your store.

About Francesca Nicasio

Francesca Nicasio is Vend's Retail Expert and Content Strategist. She writes about trends, tips, and other cool things that enable retailers to increase sales, serve customers better, and be more awesome overall. She's also the author of Retail Survival of the Fittest, a free eBook to help retailers future-proof their stores. Connect with her on LinkedIn, Twitter, or Google+.