How small retailers can prepare for 'showrooming' during this holiday season

More U.S. shoppers are using smartphones or other mobile gadgets for research while they shop. Here's how small boutiques and merchants could benefit.
Written by Heather Clancy, Contributor

The small retailers among this blog's audience are probably reading today's post on their mobile device amid the shopper onslaught on Black Friday. Or very early in the morning, before the deluge begins. Those of you reading this after the year's biggest shopping weekend, however, will find the information just as pertinent.

That's because the phenomenon of "showrooming" is going to be huge for the entire holiday season this year. For those of you who aren't familiar with the term, it refers to the practice of consumers visiting a physical retail store and using their smartphone or other mobile gadgets to conduct research right from within the aisle.

He or she might simply be gathering more data about a product, using the QR code or a barcode. Equally likely, that person might be trying to figure out whether or not the best possible price is in your store or somewhere else.

Almost 20 percent of the U.S. adults roaming stores during the upcoming winter shopping season will engage in this practice, or about 48 million shoppers, according to estimates from IDC Retail Insights. That's an increase of about 134 percent over just 12 months ago. 

The trend will keep accelerating, it seems. Next year, the number of showrooming shoppers will grow to about 59 million and by 2015, there will be 78 million of them.

But back to this year, when this behavior will influence $700 million to $1.7 billion in retail sales, according to the IDC estimates.

Here are some other useful things that IDC's research on this topic has uncovered:

- There are certain categories where this behavior is most prevalent: Consumer electronics, apparel and footwear. So, any store selling those sorts of items needs to have a relevant response.

- Assistance from a human will be a big deal: More than half of the shoppers who plan to go to stores with their smartphones in hand say that their purchase are "more likely" or "much more likely" to hinge on the advice of "trustworthy, knowledgeable store associates." That means that the clerks helping shoppers need to be just as well informed about potential promotions or information that potential customers might be seeing. Ignorance is not bliss.

- Offering showrooming shoppers special deals via a mobile device is a great way to get them to come into your store. Approximately 41 percent of those who are considering private or exclusive merchandise will rely on their smartphones for information about what to purchase, says IDC.

"Private labels or exclusive brands, customer service and loyalty stand out as the most promising strategies for dealing with showrooming," said Greg Girard, program director for IDC Retail Insights.

There are four big things that retailers can do to make sure they aren't cut out:

1) Ensure that their mobile web sites are easy to navigate, up-to-date and informative

2) Make sure that the experience is well-integrated across all sales channels - including in-store, Web site, via mobile application AND over the telephone

3) Participate in relevant shopping apps

4) Help shoppers make price comparisons via QR codes

As much as you might want to ignore showrooming, that's not a good strategy for long-term survival. The best way to compete is to participate.

Related stories:

Why (and how) retailers should embrace 'showrooming'

Make the most of your mobile Web site

Retail 3.0? Mobile technology is both bane and boon to retailers

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