It’s so commonplace that it’s stormed its way into the Oxford English Dictionary. People everywhere, you included, are spending hours in high streets and shopping malls just for the sensual experiences, before buying the items on time.
“Showrooming, noun: the practice of visiting a shop or shops in order to examine a product before buying it online at a lower price.”
I spent four hours in London’s showpiece of a mall over at Stratford on the first weekend of last December. I was actually purchasing real, physical items but what struck me most was that other people weren’t. It was busy, yet not busy busy; and for all the people wandering around shops, trying on clothes or fingering soaps, there were very few bags being swung from sweaty palms. For the first time in the course of my life, it was noticeable that people had come for an afternoon of showrooming.
As someone who actively sells eCommerce solutions by using data and trend statistics, it’s quite something to get away from the laptop and really see the change in situ – go out, grab a coffee and do some people watching, you’ll soon notice a difference. This is not to say people aren’t shopping in 3D, there are still plenty of branded bags around: these purchases will be different from the past, however. I wanted to get an insider’s view, and gave an old friend, Mark Pinder, manager of a well-known lifestyle concept high street brand, a call for some thoughts.
“It’s a convenience thing, isn’t it? People don’t have a lot of time. If they’ve seen the product and they like it but didn’t have time to try it on or queue up then they can save it for later,” Mark replies when I ask him why he thinks customers are switching to the Internet. I asked him if he targeted showroomers particularly: “We have to compete with online, but we simply can’t beat the online offers because of the overheads, you can imagine. Prices are generally the same – it’s just the offers. We can try and win their business on a returns visit though, because people can still bring back stuff they’ve bought online to our shop, just like most major retailers.”
Do you have to target those customers? “Always! And we have to capitalise on it. If we don’t have it in store we actively invite customers to order online while they’re at the point of sale. We get of lot of people taking pictures to match up what they’ve seen with what’s online too.”
“Interactivity is key,” he continues. “I think stores are having to do that a lot more now, because people are more interested in the aesthetics of a product.”
Do they buy to complement online purchases? “Yes, definitely. The online experience has had a massive impact on the way people shop. The stores that I’ve worked in have generally been ones that were previously books and CD shops, for example, and these were hit hard by the online revolution. Where we can compete is clothing: customers still want the ability to try things on before buying. If they’ve bought a particular item with a certain motif on the Internet, we’d expect them to at least try something that matches on a store visit.”
It’s not all over for the high street though, as Mark says that footfall and value of purchases are still up, year on year – it is the number of transactions that have fallen slightly, with smaller items being bought in larger numbers online.
Early figures from Visa Europe suggest that online spending reached £540m on 2013’s Cyber Monday, with Mastercard, Amex, and smaller debit and credit cards still to announce. Add to this the amazing figure of an increase of 56% of purchases made by smartphone and it really hits home the need for a device responsive site with a great “shop front” eCommerce system.
Experian Hitwise predicted 400 million hours would be spent shopping online in December 2013, a rise of 7.5% year on year, with the average consumer browsing for eight hours, and we’re waiting to see how accurate this was. 2013 was also the year that the UK saw monthly visits to online retail stores pass 3,000m – and the incredible thing about these huge record numbers is that they are continuing to be beaten time and time again.
Consumers love online because it’s cheaper, easier, and feels more private. Businesses love online because of lower overheads and the immense data collection potential: in the long-term, everything is less expensive.
In 2013, shoppers in the UK made 37% of purchases at home on their smartphones – most likely whilst browsing during time spent in front of the TV – and an impressive 5% have bought during their commute on public transport; many admit to buying online whilst in a physical store.
So the question rears: are you doing everything you can to be on top of consumer spending online? I’ve tricked you a little bit – you can’t answer yes. Simply put, if you think you’re done, or think that you’ve done enough, you’re already behind the trend. On average, website owners don’t make updates for around three years – unacceptable on the high street. It can seem an expensive option to update your pages and content, perhaps always putting back a major overhaul in any flawed systems, but it really is cheaper in the long term. If you have the right back-end to the site then the front – the shop – will always be relatively simple to refresh.
Demand for advice, new builds, and updates has meant we have had to extend our eCommerce department, bringing in certified Magento developers to be able to offer the very latest and best techniques to our clients. Unfortunately, not everyone works with certified personnel, opting for a cheaper, mostly overseas, alternative; this leads to more development work in the future due to poor coding practices and an attitude of “fast service, high turnover”.
It never ceases to amaze me how businesses can spend thousands of pounds on their brand and the look and feel of their stores, yet expect to get something online for little or no investment. I always advise my clients to see their website as the most important arm of the company: it is now your first chance of impression.
Showrooming is here to stay, and will only grow and grow. Physical stores will increase their interactivity, becoming shop fronts for websites rather than the other way around. We’ll all reminisce one day about what it used to be like to use this paper stuff called “cash”… until then, get your strategy on track; we’re here at Gravytrain when you need us.
- 4% of Americans have made a purchase on their smartphone whilst at a social gathering (that’s 12,684,168 people, based on the 2013 population)
- 20% will comment on a social site about their online purchases using their tablet device
- Approximately 41 million adults used digital coupons on their mobile device in 2013
- 15% of all online retail purchases were made on a smartphone or tablet in 2013
- 19% of shoppers admit to showrooming
Ben Morgan is a Business Development Manager at Gravytrain who works with clients to provide bespoke digital marketing solutions. Contact him via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or @benmorganUK on Twitter.