Having someone walk into your store, ask for advice, try something on for size and then pull out their smartphone to buy it elsewhere online is perhaps the ultimate insult for a retailer.
These so-called ‘showroomers’ are taking advantage of the overheads you’ve invested in a physical storefront, while your online competitors are reaping the benefits.
Some stores are actually charging people just to browse and try things on, with those fees acting as a down payment on any purchases. You might get away with imposing “fitting fees” if you sell expensive bridal gowns, but most other customers won’t react kindly to such strategies and you’re more likely to drive them away than win their business.
Rather than alienate your customers by setting up a toll booth at the door, perhaps you should think about why they’re buying elsewhere and how you could win them back. Online shopping is generally about price and convenience, areas where it’s hard for bricks-and-mortar stores to compete.
Of course, savvy retailers know that the relationship between stores and their customers is a lot more complicated than this.
The best way to fight showrooming is to play to your strengths – not with the threat of penalties but rather with the promise of benefits. Those benefits include customer service and a personalised shopping experience.
Quality pre-sales advice from knowledgeable staff is an important aspect of customer service, although it obviously leaves you even more vulnerable to showroomers. The key is to follow up the hard work of your sales staff with other value-added services and tangible benefits.
Something as simple as in-store gift wrapping can help your customers see the value in coming into the store to spend their money: such things also build brand loyalty and word-of-mouth, which keep people coming through the door.
A loyalty card system might make the perfect platform on which to build a relationship with your customers. The benefits of membership need not simply be discounts, but also priority access to new products and services. This could include VIP access to in-store events, from book signings to sneak peeks of new products. At the same time you’re cultivating a community and building a database of your most valuable customers.
Handled with care, this customer database combined with a strong social media presence could become the lifeblood of your business which keeps the cash register ringing even if you’re being undercut by online rivals. From here you might consider investing in Customer
Relationship Management tools which let you tactfully upsell and cross-sell to those customers, but make sure you always treat your customers with respect.
Some people will always shop around on price and there’s little point in cutting your own throat to chase them. Slashing overheads such as customer service in order to compete with online retailers on price alone will put most businesses on the road to ruin. Instead, your goal should be to capture those lucrative loyal customers who will happily pay extra to buy things from a store they know and trust. They’ll also bring in their friends, especially if you provide extra benefits for customer referrals.
Of course, great post-sales support is another important aspect of customer service. Treating your customers with respect and promptly dealing with their concerns is perhaps more likely to keep them coming back than simply offering good pre-sales advice. Don’t expect loyalty from your customers if you abandon them in their time of need.
This all might seem like simple common sense, but implementing these practices to combat showrooming can force you to completely rethink your approach to customer service and perhaps even shift your business focus in the long term. Rather than threaten potential shoppers to ward off showroomers, consider how you might convert them into loyal customers.
David Hancock is the founder and managing director of Geeks2U, a national on-site computer repair and support company.