What an early holiday shopping season it’s been! According to BGR, Black Friday sales topped $1 billion in 2012. But what’s even more amazing is that according to Mobile Marketing UK, mCommerce (mobile commerce) traffic to retail shopping sites is expected to double from 2011′s pace, making up to 25% of total traffic to those sites. But here’s a disturbing trend that mobile is fostering: showrooming.
What is showrooming? I’ll use a personal example to illustrate. My husband is an avid Amazon.com shopper. Loves their prices and their rewards programs. So when we’re in a brick-and-mortar store and he sees something he wants to buy, he whips out his iPhone and checks to see how much it would cost if he ordered it on Amazon. More often than not, he eventually buys it on Amazon. So, essentially, the brick-and-mortar store we visited has become a “showroom” for its competitor Amazon, a place where a “gotta touch and try it first” buyer like my husband can check out the item prior to buying online. This showrooming problem will inevitably eat up many real world retailers’ profits while online retailing powerhouses gain ground.
And my husband is not an isolated example. According to a MediaPost report of a comScore survey, 37% of U.S. consumers say they have participated in “showrooming” behavior, up 5% in two quarters. I believe this trend will continue to grow.
Could this affect you as a small business? Of course it can if you have any retail presence offering products that are available elsewhere on the web. I’ve seen this trend myself. I’ll exhibit at expos and get booth visitors who are really interested in the promotional products I’m showing. Then they go back to the office and buy the products from my mega online promo competitors. I just got “showroomed!”
- Don’t Ignore the Trend. Okay, let’s agree that you and your small business are special. But that will not prevent potential customers from seeking other sources for the product or service you offer. Even if your offerings are handmade originals or unique services, people will still look for alternatives in tough economic times. Accept it.
- Promote What They Can’t. Being a smaller company, you can provide services that large online retailers cannot or will not offer. Special customer care packages, unique product customization, education, research, community involvement, your staff… be creative. This can help take price out of the buying equation.
- Make it Difficult. In the promotional products industry, some distributors refuse to give their customers the model or style numbers in quotes so that people don’t comparison shop. Even if they do compare, they’ll have a harder time figuring if it’s an apples-to-apples comparison. This might help you in the short term, but customers are search savvy and will dig deeper. So carefully evaluate whether it’s worth setting up custom numbers for every product you sell. I’ve found it to be a major undertaking and not worth the effort, especially since I have several hundred items on my shopsites and it would necessitate investment in a pumped up ecommerce engine. But if your offerings are limited, it’s worth considering.
- The Big “What If.” What if you find that your business is completely dissolving due to showrooming? Do you have a Plan B business plan or multiple streams of income that can replace what you’ve lost? This is something that all small businesses must consider.
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