Shop owners are sick of people scoping their stores - only to use information to buy cheaper products online.

And now, some bricks-and-mortar retailers are fighting back.

Retailers are charging people to try on shoes and clothing.

The nation’s peak retail industry group is aware of a few retailers in the ski-boot business that apply a fitting charge which is then subtracted from the final bill if the product is purchased.

‘‘They’re certainly at liberty to do this and there is no rule stopping you,’’ Australian Retailers Association executive director Russell Zimmerman said.

It is a decision for each retailer to make.

Mr Zimmerman said retailers were hurting from high employment costs, such as weekend penalty rates, expensive rent in shopping malls and the GST exemption on overseas purchases up to $1000.

‘‘Those are the costs that are in actual fact making it difficult for retailers to be competitive against overseas retailers,’’ said Mr Zimmerman, who has owned the Sparke’s Shoes retail chain since 1980.

A fall in consumer confidence this month to its lowest level since August last year, according to the Westpac-Melbourne Institute survey, released today, compounds retailers’ problems.

Online retail sales make up about 5 per cent of purchases, of which about half of these are to Australian online retailers. But the online retail market is growing quickly.

A brand-marketing expert advises against applying fitting charges as an online countermeasure and argues retailers should be ‘‘selling the shopping experience’’ and ‘‘building that relationship’’.

Tony Eades, the creative director of BrandManager, said retailers should not be cutting corners ‘‘by putting the younger school kids on and not training them properly’’.

Too many discount sales also hurt traditional retailers, Mr Eades said. They should be offering value to customers through two-for-one deals or a free gift with a purchase.

‘‘One of the issues we’ve always pushed with our clients is that if you discount something it’s very hard to then sell that product at the right price later,’’ Mr Eades said. ‘‘People price it at its discounted price and that’s what it is worth.’’

Ideas such as ‘‘special previews’’ made customers feel important. ‘‘It costs a couple of glasses of wine and some pieces of cheese, but those people feel special,’’ Mr Eades said.

ACT Chamber of Commerce and Industry chief executive Chris Peters said the retail business was forever evolving but it was important to provide professional customer service.

He said consumers were using smartphones to compare prices between rival stores and asking retailers to ‘‘match that’’, a far more significant threat than online purchases from overseas.

The skills levels of some sales assistants was a concern, Dr Peters said.

‘‘Being a retailer is and has always been a skilled expertise,’’ he said. ‘‘It’s not a matter of having an idea and filling up a store with stock and waiting for customers to walk in.’’

Canberra Business Council is running courses through Canberra BusinessPoint, which provides advice on adjusting to the business cycle, to help retailers adapt to the small but growing online threat.

‘‘What we are saying to a lot of retailers is not to necessarily give up your bricks and mortar store but supplement it with an online presence,’’ CBC chief executive Chris Faulks said.