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How to Handle Showrooming

Retailers and experts share their tips for how to react when a customer pulls out their phone in your store.

Katie Caron
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When you see a customer with their phone or tablet out in your showroom, don’t be afraid to approach them and tactfully strike up a conversation about their research. They took the time to come all the way to your store, after all. (Photo: lightpoet - stock.adobe.com)

Showrooming has become a given in the retail business. You’ve all seen it: A customer walks into your store, looks at an item on your shelf, and takes out his or her phone to compare prices on Amazon. In fact, a 2016 Pew study showed that 45 percent of Americans have used their phone in a store to look up online reviews or find better deals. Alyson Anderson, Partner at Retail Concepts, says the practice isn’t going anywhere soon, and retailers should accept it and work with it rather than fight it. 

You can’t exactly ask customers to check their phones at the door, but there are tactics at your disposal for handling showrooming. Read on to find out more. 

Establish a Connection 

When Mark Bouchett, Operations Manager of Homeport in Vermont, sees customers comparing a product on their phones in his home goods store, he confronts it gently by striking up a conversation. He chats with the customer about what they’re finding out, asks how his prices compare and tactfully mentions that Homeport is family-owned. 

“If I can’t walk up to someone who’s taking pictures of my items in the store and engage them, I’ve failed on a lot of levels. We don’t see it so much as a threat — in fact it’s kind of an invitation,” Bouchett says. “We’re shifting our mental paradigm and we’re thinking of it as an opportunity to engage.”

At Adorn House, a home furnishings boutique in Seattle, owner Renate Ruby has seen her fair share of showrooming, so she focuses on establishing strong relationships with her vendors and customers. She loves talking to customers about how products are made and the materials that are used.

“The more you make it less of an inanimate object and the more it becomes something that’s a product of a craft,” Ruby says, “then I think it has not only more meaning to a customer, but also they get more enjoyment out of it.”

Set Yourself Apart

One of the best ways to combat showrooming is setting your business apart with strong customer service, unique products and services and a fun environment. 

“The ability to touch and feel products is huge,” Anderson says. “Brick-and-mortar will never fully go away. Screens can’t show color the same way, or smell or texture. [The internet] is a great researching tool, but people will still want that high-touch aspect. There are so many creative ways to compete.”

Creating a unique atmosphere in your store is one way to gain a competitive edge. Bouchett says he teaches his staff that Homeport is in the entertainment business and that the customer experience is paramount. 

“We’re in theater. We have to delight people when they come through that door,” he says. “Their experience, whether or not we sell them anything, is important to us.”

Offering specialized services will also help you stand out. At Adorn, Ruby helps clients find and source items using her vast product knowledge and interior design background. She is able to offer a personalized experience that scrolling through pages online can’t match.

Much of the motivation behind showrooming comes down to pricing, so do your best to stay competitive even with ecommerce sites. If your prices are higher, be ready to explain why, whether it’s the expensive rent at your prime location or how you support your staff. Offering financing options, as Bouchett does, can help you close the sale and open up options for your customer as well. 

While it may be hard to do at first, try taking on an “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em” attitude. For Bouchett, embracing and working with customers who have their phones out has proved successful. He describes a recent situation where a woman was looking at online reviews for a coffeemaker on his shelf. He casually approached her and asked if she had questions, and she replied, “Not really, but I might in a minute.” After a few minutes, he checked in with her again, and this time she did have questions. After some conversation, he set her up on a store computer so she could look up product details and reviews on Amazon. When she finished browsing, she was ready to make the purchase at Homeport.

Ultimately, seeing a customer with their phone out doesn’t have to be cause for alarm. Google data illustrates that 82 percent of shoppers consult their phones for items they’re planning to buy in-store. The internet within reach has empowered consumers with more information, and it’s up to you to work with that, offer a rich shopping experience and close the sale. 

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