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Drop that mobile! The retailers fighting back against showrooming

Do you feel a little used and abused by customers who try but never buy? Take a tip from these two clever retailers.

Pity the poor high-street retailer. Running an old-school bricks-and-mortar shop now seems especially tough thanks to the impact of a controversial, voyeuristic trend in the spotlight called “showrooming”.

In a showrooming scenario, a customer walks into a shop and eyeballs some merchandise, apparently about to commit. Instead - perhaps on the spot, using a mobile - the customer craftily compares prices online and buys the product under scrutiny cheaper elsewhere. Almost half of all smartphone owners have used their device to research a purchase, according to Telstra. For shopkeepers, the smart skullduggery could mean repeatedly being undercut by rival retailers: a nightmare predicament.

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But some merchants are fighting back. Meet Carey Parsons, the owner of Newtown's holySheet! home luxuries shop. Parsons markets a range of bedroom and bathroom products, of which many - including sheets, towels and pillows – touch your skin.

“So how they feel and make you feel is really important,” Parsons says. Parsons counters showrooming and fuels tactile engagement by providing hands-on product displays - shoppers are welcome to feel sample linen including Egyptian cotton 1000-thread sheets.


The same applies to the towels that Parsons stocks. “You can only know the luxury of a towel by feeling it - you can't do this on the internet,” Parsons says.

Another engagement tactic he uses is to coax customers to lie on a bed and test pillows before committing to a decision. Customers are still more likely to buy on the spot rather than later online because Parsons' product ranges are exclusive, he says. He further fosters consumption by offering each customer a Pointpal smartphone loyalty app that rewards commitment with discounts.

Parsons says customers love the app, and he believes it draws shoppers back.

A director of Melbourne's plus-size Te Kiero Boutique, Kiro Nic, says that, until a year ago, he struggled to lure more than half his customers back to his shop for repeat business.

Only when Nic spotted locals out wearing the latest fashion made by his designers did he grasp why: his clients had taken the showrooming path and were buying straight from the source.

“Obviously this was a bit of a slap in the face and we needed to work out what we were doing wrong,” he says.

You can only know the luxury of a towel by feeling it - you can't do this on the internet.

Nic deduced that his shop's offbeat location away from the CBD at Avondale Heights in Melbourne's western suburbs was partly culpable.

So, using an online store platform, he put his boutique on the web at a cost of about $15,000.

That promotional move helped hugely. Still, too few customers were returning.

So, he researched the price-point for his products then adopted more competitive pricing, matching and sometimes beating rivals. That step was key to winning women back to the physical and virtual versions of his store, he says. He also focused on offering impeccable customer service.

“Our customers are our livelihood - we like to treat them like family and ensure they leave our store always happy, satisfied and with a bag or six on their arms,” he says, reflecting the commonly stated advice that clients should be treated more respectfully than ever.

“This model is all about service, service, service,” says business coach Dr Greg Chapman, who advocates packaging consultations with sales. Then, a customer could book and pay for a consultation with an in-store expert who would tailor a solution to their needs, perhaps suggesting a mix of products.

Like Carey Parsons, Dr Chapman also champions exclusivity.

It seems you should strive to sell equally distinctive goods while retaining a sense of perspective. After all, showrooming of a kind has been with us since the Yellow Pages were invented. Customers have long had the chance to play the field, which may mean that showrooming poses less of a threat than some fear. But all the easily accessible online market intelligence fosters the opportunism underpinning the trend.

The canniest way to counter it might be to strike a compromise like American small business owner Colleen Lloyd-Roberts.

In a stab at capturing wayward bargain hunters, Lloyd-Roberts is now putting her own cosmetic goods on Amazon and eBay. She says that the measure means she can now lure both regular customers through her primary site and bargain-seekers through the online discount giants - which is perhaps the best of both worlds.

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