Showrooming in Apparel: Turning a Threat into an Opportunity

With the rise of the smartphone has come the rise of ‘showrooming’, whereby consumers visit a bricks and mortar store to examine or try on a product, then buy through a cheaper retailer online. While apparel is by no means the most at-risk consumer goods category from showrooming – consumer electronics for example are far more vulnerable – it is nevertheless critically important that apparel retailers understand the implications showrooming brings for the future of apparel retailing.

Higher Priced Brands Drive Consumers to Discounts

The threat of showrooming is not equal for all apparel retailers. Most at risk are multi-brand retailers that sell higher priced branded apparel and sportswear – consumers thinking of buying performance sport shoes or a premium pair of jeans online could well be inclined to visit a shop first, try on the shoes or jeans to be certain of size, then buy online for less. It is unlikely however that a shopper in Primark or H&M will take the time to search online for a cheaper, basic t-shirt, particularly as they would then have to wait for delivery.

First and foremost, the worst strategy a retailer can take to combat showrooming is to attempt to stop it. Blocking mobile signals for example, which some stores have tried, will achieve little other than alienating consumers. Another tactic tried is the ‘fitting fee’, adopted by a few independent retailers in Australia and the US, with the cost of trying on garments redeemable against purchases. While there is some merit in trying to tackle the problem proactively, a fitting fee is also likely to hinder rather than help, damaging relationships between the consumer and the retailer. Furthermore, when faced with a fitting fee, consumers who might just have made an impulse purchase may never get as far as the changing room.

Competing on Price is One Option

Since the primary gain of showrooming for consumers is saving money, there is scope for apparel retailers to play the competition at their own game. Sales staff could be enabled to offer an on-the-spot discount for example, or a cheaper price for multi-item purchases. After all, a discounted sale is surely preferable to the sale going to an online rival. Looking ahead, location technology on smartphones could be used to send one-day discount vouchers straight to consumers when they enter the store – hopefully convincing consumers to buy then and there. When
communicating these discounts, retailers should also play the trump card of bricks and mortar stores – that shoppers can take home their garment there and then without having to wait for delivery. On top of this, a timely comment from staff about the ease of returning an item could be enough to sway anyone still tempted by the thought of a cheaper deal online.

Turn a Threat into an Opportunity

While on-the-day discounts are one way of competing, they are by no means the only weapon at the disposal of bricks and mortar stores. Instead of being seen as a threat, the arrival of showrooming should be looked on as an opportunity for apparel retailers to improve service standards and revamp stores into an environment where consumers want to spend time – and money.

Those apparel retailers most at risk from consumer showrooming must look to develop shops into destinations that hold enough appeal to get consumers out of their homes and onto the high street – simply selling is no longer enough. While store design, location and ambiance are all important to draw in footfall, clued-up staff with exceptional customer service skills are vital to generate in-store sales. If a consumer feels they have a good rapport with a salesperson and have been well looked after, they are far less likely to then leave the store and buy online.

Reebok’s FitHub store, the first in the UK, opening in London’s Covent Garden in late 2013, could well point to the future of bricks and mortar stores. As well as selling Reebok sportswear, the store, decked out like a gym, offers top-notch fitness advice to consumers. FitHub’s sales staff have qualifications ranging from personal trainers and nutritionists to sports scientists. FitHub staff not only sell, they also offer advice that, were it sought elsewhere, would likely come at a cost. Free in-store workout classes – a tactic also employed by Nike – meanwhile serve to build a strong sense of community and engagement with the brand.

Simply Selling is not Enough

To thrive in the years to come, department stores and fashion retailers must follow in the footsteps of Reebok and adopt a similar approach, building their stores into destinations that offer far more than just selling clothing. Free in-store stylist services, perhaps with stylists later blogging about the looks they have created on customers that day, events for store card holders with on-the-day discounts, as well as styling and make-up tutorial sessions, would all encourage footfall and, in turn, possibly secure some impulse purchases. On-the-spot alterations, customisations and repairs could also be considered as a means of securing purchases in-store. By whatever means, getting the customer to interact with the store and its sales staff on a one-to-one basis is vital to avoid losing sales to cheaper online rivals.

With showrooming, mobile and internet commerce still in its relatively early days, as yet, there are few set rights and wrongs as to how bricks and mortar stores should combat the trend. To date, the only certainty is that the retailers most at risk must think creatively and act quickly or they risk losing relevance as the dynamics of the market shift further in favour of mobile and ecommerce.