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Drop that mobile! The retailers fighting back against showrooming

Date

David Wilson

Carey Parsons, the owner of Newtown's holySheet!, offers hands-on product displays to engage his customers.

Carey Parsons, the owner of Newtown's holySheet!, offers hands-on product displays to engage his customers. Photo: Supplied

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”.

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

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.

Boutique owner Kiro Nic developed a website and changed his pricing after realising he was losing many potential customers to the internet.

Boutique owner Kiro Nic developed a website and changed his pricing after realising he was losing many potential customers to the internet. Photo: Supplied

  • Have you got an anti-showrooming strategy? Leave a comment below

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.

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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312 comments

  • Skullduggery!! - this seems to be the language being used - why! because consumers want a better price in OVERPRICED AUSTRALIA - the great thing about the digital age is now people REALLY KNOW HOW MUCH THEY ARE BEING RIPPED OFF and can do something about it - that is what really peeves retailers - that customer now can actually do something about it.

    Commenter
    linjellet
    Date and time
    January 15, 2013, 11:32AM
    • linjellet: No, what really peeves retailers is that they are offering something the online retailer can't - the "hands-on" experience with the product, which costs more to provide by having a showroom, sales staff, display stock etc. But the customer then goes online and buys it cheaper - getting the hands-on experience for free, when it should be built into the price.

      So what happens when the retailer goes broke and the consumer can't get his hands-on experience? He has to take pot-luck with buying online. TYhe poor retailer is stuck between a rock and a hard place.

      Commenter
      Jim
      Location
      Melbourne
      Date and time
      January 15, 2013, 11:42AM
    • Absolutely. I know when I shop locally, walking through the stores just makes me upset, as the prices are so blatantly overpriced. If we were talking about a small mark-up for the retail experience it would be one thing, but when you can buy much of the same online overseas often at over 40% less than the prices it is sold at locally, savvy consumers are going to find the best prices online. Shopping online is so easy now days, with so many resources helping Australians get more information and how and where to shop such as at Zangle.com.au that there is no more excuses for the massive local mark-ups.
      I would love to shop in Australia, but that will only be a reality when the prices are more in sync with the rest of the world.

      Commenter
      Lexie
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      January 15, 2013, 12:00PM
    • Both Linjellet and Jim are correct. Only a retail shop can provide a tactile experience or a visual inspection of the exact unit being purchased. And the rents and wages required to do this make it unreasonably expensive. But the web not only provides lower prices but also infinitely wider range and a superior level of 24/7 convenience and customer service via independent blogs, customer experiences and reviews. Nothing can quite compare to the advantages of on-line shopping. But the fact that retails and their landlords and extreme award rates have conspired over the years to rip off the Australian consumers cannot be denied.

      Commenter
      L R
      Date and time
      January 15, 2013, 12:02PM
    • Jim, we don't mind if we have to pay a little more. I think most of us are not that tight. However when the difference is enormous, and I mean enormous (ie. difference between retail price in australia versus US online being anywhere between 100-300% even when you take into account postage, and yes you read that right), no one in the right mind will want to give away their hard earned money so readily unless you're a fool.

      Commenter
      Stamina
      Location
      Melbourne
      Date and time
      January 15, 2013, 12:02PM
    • Stamina: that may be so, but does that give you the right to go into a local retail store, and STEAL from that retailer the hands-on experience? He is paying high rents and high wages in order to provide that service, and you go into his store with no intention of buying from him. That is not right. If you want the low prices online, then take the risk that goes with it - that the product may not be exactly what you wanted.

      Commenter
      Jim
      Location
      Melbourne
      Date and time
      January 15, 2013, 12:22PM
    • #Lexie, while you, and the rest of the planet continue to obsess about getting the lowest possible price, you will have a sad miserable life.

      And when your children or nieces or neighbour's kids can't get a holiday job in retail, gaining valuable work skills, you no doubt will be amongst the first to blame the government for youth unemployment.

      Wake the hell up Australia.

      You know what REALLY sucks? Nike announcing a $250 million sponsorship of some golfer. That cost is built into every Nike sweatshop made thing they flog. It's not the retailer gouging you, its your sporting heroes!

      Commenter
      Magilla
      Location
      Ryde
      Date and time
      January 15, 2013, 12:25PM
    • Maybe retailers should charge a entry fee which would come of the price of the purchase made in store.

      or maybe the store should be suing the manufacturer for the service they provide for them. If the real store didnt exist they would get the sale

      Commenter
      Daren
      Location
      Brisbane
      Date and time
      January 15, 2013, 12:28PM
    • Amen to that.

      Retailers complain, business lobbyists complain, governments complain [about tax].

      But where is the consumer in all this? I still remember realising for the first time that Americas pay $20 AUD for a polo shirt that is $95 on the shelf at David Jones. I never pay retail if I can avoid it, and if shops start refusing to let me in with my iphone I'll just leave and go somewhere else. I respect these guys, they know the game is up and to what capitalism tells them they are supposed to do; Innovate!

      Meanwhile the big retailers blame everyone but themselves, while the Aussie consumer finally has the last laugh!

      Commenter
      MR Z
      Location
      Melbourne
      Date and time
      January 15, 2013, 12:32PM
    • A little off beat but I would like to share my experience.

      I wanted a leather A5 folder with a zipper - no ring binder, just for an A5 pad. Seems simple but I couldn't find one for sale anywhere at all.

      Eventually I found a company that I almost had to beg to make me one but eventually all dialogue stopped. Nobody in Australia wanted to help - even though we have oodles of kangaroo leather etc.

      I eventually found what I was looking for - from the UK on eBay.

      This article is good; I as well as a lot of other people want to give retailers a go but not if retailers are going to waste our time with poor service or lack of interest or out of control prices.

      In the article above service and price was found to be the key - sevice and price! I can't remember when I was last in a Myer or a David Jones - service and price!

      Commenter
      Siak and Tied
      Location
      Sydney West
      Date and time
      January 15, 2013, 12:34PM

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