Sure, price-shopping consumers can save a few dollars by buying from big e-tailing sites, but brick and mortar specialty shops can do more to capture those sales and create a long-term, loyal customers in the process.
IT HAPPENS PRACTICALLY EVERY DAY IN OUTDOOR SHOPS AROUND THE COUNTRY. A customer walks into the store and heads over to the pack wall. He tries a bunch on, finds the perfect fit, the ideal size, and the feature set that he likes. He may or may not be casually surfing on his phone throughout the process. Regardless, he offers a quick “thank you!” then boogies on home to make the purchase online, where he saves a few bucks.
It’s called “showrooming,” and it’s become a dirty word in the world of brick and mortar retailers. Mark Swindel, store manager of REI’s Salt Lake City location, says it happens far more than he’d like.
Nowadays, everyone has product information at their fingertips, and apps such as ShopSavvy and PriceGrabber make comparison shopping even easier. Swindel and other retail managers find it hard to fight against the competitive prices of the “Amazons of the world.”
But there are ways to combat showrooming, and bring those transactions back into your shop.
#1 Train your retail employees.
Human interaction is something you can’t get online, even if there is an open chatroom. Bob Phibbs, CEO of Retail Doctor, a retail consulting firm, attributes showrooming to less retail assistants on the floor and a lack of communication with customers.
“[Retailers] think it’s all about price and it isn’t. The reason people showroom is that they aren’t getting served,” he says. “If you get a friendly employee who can actually engage a customer and earn trust, you keep those customers.”
Oftentimes, retailers hire hobbyists who might have a wealth of knowledge about gear, but are scared to start a conversation with a stranger. Employees should be outgoing, and if they aren’t, retailers need to train them.
Training is expensive and time consuming, but it also translates to loyal customers who prefer taking the time to drive to your store, rather than purchase a product online.
Big ticket items can be hard to sell in-store, but Joe Campisi, managing partner of Campisi / Manzella & Associates LLC, a consulting firm in the outdoor and active lifestyle market, agrees that employee engagement makes all the difference.
Campisi calls it “co-inventing their adventure with them.” Connect with the customer. Make it personal with real-world experiences and passions that you share. Give them deeper product info, help them accessorize, and show them alternatives.
#2 Integrate online and in-store.
The divide between people who shop online and those who prefer brick and mortar has crumbled. Everyone is now a digital customer. Internet giants thrive because they use online marketing strategies to drive sales, and they have big data on their side. Every click, scroll, and search is recorded and used to define customer habits. There’s flexibility and feedback to test online displays, ad placements, and “recommended” items. Bryan Eisenberg, partner of bryaneisenberg.com, a business that coaches companies on this digital marketing, wants to see offline stores take the same approach.
“It’s a lot harder to move around shelves than it is moving a couple of images [on a site’s page], but we’re going to have to get there if we really want to see the growth people are expecting,” he says.
Camera-based solutions like RetailNext, BrickStream and DigitalMortar help retailers track consumer habits in stores, like how people move through a store and what displays draw attention.
Through online user data, digital marketing managers realized that customers want to see reviews, so gear reviews are generally visible and easy to navigate, both on retailers’ sites and sites like Backcountry.com. Eisenberg recommends giving shoppers what they want in stores, by purchasing tablets and placing them beside products. Customers can read reviews and product specs from the store’s site or app, so there’s no need for personal research on a smartphone, where a deal might catch their eye. Also, stores can connect their site to the store by providing online coupons redeemable only in stores.
#3 Focus on display.
Besides being able to talk to an expert, people enter stores to experience the product for themselves.
“[Consumers] are all still enamored by touch and feel, so anytime we can add those senses [to a consumer’s shopping experience], we add value,” Campisi says. Presentation and interaction are key. Eisenberg suggests stepping away from the traditional set-up of a retail store over-stocked with products. Instead, showcase a tent filled with sleeping bags shoppers can step into or climbing shoes beside a mini climbing wall. Retailers should utilize the back of the store for storing multiple sizes and colors of products. Running stores often do this with shoes, leaving room open for customers to try on the shoes and run down a track.
“I’d rather have X number of square feet to experience a product versus having racks and racks of products,” Eisenberg says. Plus, having less product for customers to grab at the front of the house requires customers to seek help and interact with employees if they want the product in their size.
#4 Tie-in sales.
Give customers free gloves when they purchase a jacket in-store or offer a free ski wax next season to ski buyers. Shops have to give customers a reason to purchase something now, and that can be done through additional gear or service, Campisi says. These deals makes customers feel an urgency to buy, which is crucial for in-store sales. It can be difficult to beat low online prices, so it’s essential to convince the buyer that they’re getting something in the store they can’t get anywhere else.
#5 Utilize technology.
While some applications like ShopSavvy and Barcode Scanner, which allow you to scan barcodes and find better deals online, hinder brick and mortar retailers, there are others that benefit them. Some geo-location shopping apps, like Shopkick and Ibotta, reward customers for purchasing at retail stores, and retailers can leverage those rewards. Providing easy ways for people to check out, such as mobile wallets, has become a necessity.
“If I can’t buy the way I want to buy, and enjoy the process with minimal effort, I might as well come into the store, browse, and leave,” Eisenberg says. If retailer shops want to compete with e-commerce sites, they need to offer free delivery for items too big to lug home‑-like kayaks, canoes or bikes--and fast, free shipping for items that aren’t immediately available in the color of size the customer wants.
Bottom line: You can convert showroomers into loyal, repeat customers. You already got them to walk through your door, after all. You just need to get them to put down their phones and engage with the people on the sales floor.
Carolyn Webber is a freelance outdoor journalist from Salt Lake City, Utah, who spends every spare moment backpacking, climbing and snowboarding in the Wasatch Mountains.