Showrooming is a trend in shopping behavior where consumers visit stores to touch and feel the products but opt to purchase them online. Webrooming is the opposite.
While larger retailers may have a larger budget to help them play catch-up with customer demands, small business owners are usually under tighter financial constraints.
Never fear—here are a few tactics to help direct-to-consumer retailers of almost any size meet those ever-changing customer expectations.
What is showrooming?
As it refers to shopper behavior, showrooming can be defined as when a shopper visits a store to check out a product but then purchases the product online. This occurs because, while many people still prefer seeing and touching the merchandise they buy, many items are available at lower prices through online vendors. As such, local stores essentially become showrooms for online shoppers.
Showrooming is happening whether you like it or not. Instead of fighting it, this article will discuss ways to lean into the trend and capitalize on this modern-day shopper behavior.
In the past, there was a lot of gloom-and-doom talk about how showrooming ate into retailers’ profits. Nowadays, however, retailers are encouraging showrooming to save money, attract younger shoppers, and focus on the customer experience instead of just the bottom line.
💡 PRO TIP: Ship-to-customer order fulfillment is the easiest way turn your store into a showroom. Rather than being limited to selling products you have in stock, you can sell products in-store and ship them to customers from your warehouse or another store location that has inventory.
Showrooming vs. webrooming
Showrooming is when people look at products in stores but then buy them online, usually at a lower price. The opposite is webrooming, where customers research products online but purchase in a store. The two behaviors show how online and offline shopping are blending.
The increase in webrooming is due to:
- More retailers switching to multichannel selling and adopting ecommerce
- A greater focus on better in-store customer experiences (like experiential marketing and immersive brand experiences)
- More employee training to build a knowledgeable sales staff
- Click-and-collect options, i.e., in-store pickups for online orders
- In-store amenities like WiFi and events
- Smartphone discounts nudging shoppers to buy in-store (proximity marketing)
Although showrooming and webrooming are on the opposite sides of the shopper behavior spectrum, both activities have evolved from the growing accessibility of technology (i.e., the smartphone that goes everywhere in your pocket).
Let’s look at how retailers can turn these pain points into opportunities for their retail stores and bolster their business in the process.
💡 PRO TIP: Set up local pickup in Shopify to start offering in-store pickup as a delivery option at checkout. Pay less on last-mile delivery, speed up fulfillment times on local orders, and drive more foot traffic to your stores.
Benefits of showrooming
- Less need for space
- Enhanced customer relationships
- Customers get products immediately
- Upsell potential
- More customer data
Less need for space
Showrooming removes the need to artfully display every product you sell, thus requiring less space for your store. This can help you save money on rent, retail interior design, hiring a planogram expert, and other overhead costs.
Smaller retail space also simplifies consumer choice, thus eliminating choice paralysis, increasing retail conversions, and helping your customers be more confident in their choices.
Enhanced customer relationships and loyalty
A showrooming model removes the pressure of making an immediate sale and allows retailers and their sales teams to focus on building long-term relationships with customers.
Associates then become retail consultants rather than salespeople, providing personalized assistance and recommendations. In today’s highly competitive retail landscape, this level of customer service builds stronger relationships and customer loyalty.
Both showrooming and webrooming allow for the potential to upsell and cross-sell products. When customers visit your store to price-check and research a particular product, you have the chance to introduce them to others they may be interested in. Some retailers post QR codes near items that provide data on related products.
Similarly, customers who shop online but visit stores to complete their purchases may find other products they like once they start browsing. Point-of-purchase (POP) displays at your checkout counter and around your sales floor are a great way to increase sales.
More customer data
Customers who visit and engage via showrooming can provide valuable information that helps you better understand your audience. It’s a channel where customers share their preferences and help you learn how they make buying decisions.
Sure, customers may be showrooming your business to determine the best price for your product. You can still gather valuable information from these shoppers to improve your advertising—and get their business next time.
Risks and challenges of showrooming
Unless you adapt and embrace modern-day shopping behaviors, your store will fall behind. Here are some suggestions on how to mitigate these risks.
Lose sales to competitors
Customers “showroom” in an effort to discover the best price for a product—potentially elsewhere. As a result, you may lose sales to competitors, such as discount retailers or even secondhand shops.
In consumers’ eyes, this is just smart shopping. To brick-and-mortar retailers, however, it’s tough not to feel defeated. Instead of letting showrooming bring you down, understand where your store is susceptible to it.
Give customers a reason (other than low prices) to shop with you. Customers crave unique experiences and relationships as much as they do discounts.
💡 PRO TIP: Use Shopify POS email carts to recover abandoned store sales and ensure showroomers buy from you rather than competitors. Add items to customers’ virtual cart, send their wishlist by email, and credit your store for making the sale—even if it happens online.
Misattributions in reporting or stock numbers
Multichannel retail can make reporting and inventory management tricky. Customers who shop online and buy in-store (webrooming) or shop in-store and buy online (showrooming) should be able to access precise stock numbers.
Consider using a point-of-sale system that works seamlessly with your online store’s back end. Shopify POS, for instance, connects to your Shopify store and lets you manage each of your sales channels from Shopify admin.
Unifying your sales channels helps support showroomers and webroomers in a few ways. For instance, inventory levels are updated as products are sold, returned, or exchanged online or in-store, so customers and store staff know exactly how much stock you have at all times. More importantly, your sales reports accurately attribute revenue to the correct sales channels, which gives you a complete picture of how (and where) your customers prefer to discover and purchase.
While many shoppers are price-checking your products, they’re also doing things like looking up additional product information.
Shoppers do even more research for certain big-ticket items, such as consumer electronics, mobile products, or furniture.
Shoppers are also more likely to buy durable, nonperishable items online (e.g., books, electronics, and apparel) and buy consumable products in person (e.g., groceries and medicine). Because of this, some retail categories are less susceptible to showrooming or webrooming than others.
Seamless shopping experiences
When done right, showrooms can provide a better shopping experience than your typical store visit. Showrooming enables customers to come in and experience the brand and product while allowing them to seamlessly complete purchases online—oftentimes, the preferred way.
Better yet, the showrooming customer experience removes the need for customers to haul their purchases home. Instead, they’ll be delivered directly.
Turning stores into content creation studios
Showrooming widens the scope of possibilities for what you can do with your retail space. If you’re less concerned with filling every aisle and display case, you can turn your shop into a unique customer experience, like a content creation studio.
Oftentimes, artfully designed showrooms (like Forage’s, below) can double as content creation studios and spots for creators and social media influencers to take photos and create content for their businesses. Not only does this give creators a venue to capture content, it also provides high-quality user-generated content and imagery to promote your business.
When crafting your showroom, consider its design as much as its functionality. A well-designed showroom can sell itself.
Evolution of the store associate
Showrooming and webrooming have shifted the responsibilities required of store associates.
Customer service is paramount
Showrooming requires a shift away from purely selling and into providing a personalized customer experience. This falls on the shoulders of your store associates. Transitioning to a showrooming model may also require new retail employee training that focuses less on making sales and more on consulting, upselling, and relationship-building.
What was once reserved for high-end, luxury retail stores is now more commonplace for consumers: appointment shopping. With a set time and fewer customers, sales associates can offer more tailored and personal assistance to each visitor.
TIP FOR SHOPIFY MERCHANTS: Visit the Shopify App Store for free apps that help manage in-store appointment scheduling.
Virtual online shopping bridges the gap between physical retail and ecommerce, connecting shoppers and store associates in a neutral, virtual setting. Through this real-time connection, shoppers can ask questions, virtually try on products, and get expert recommendations while browsing the same merchandise they’d find in the store.
Customers often use virtual shopping to scope out products and pricing before either ordering online or going into stores, making it a modern-day variation of showrooming.
How to leverage showrooming
1. Go multichannel
Offering a cohesive customer experience across multiple channels encourages shoppers to engage with your brand both online and offline.
In a 2023 data report, 65% of millennials indicated a preference for buying products in-store, while 55% favored online retailers like Amazon. The same report mentioned that about one-third prefer to purchase directly from a company’s website.
If you haven’t done so already, consider multichannel retail. Whether you expand to selling through an ecommerce site, social channels, and/or pop-up or showroom locations, build a multichannel strategy that works for your unique brand.
2. Engage customers with personalized service and experiences
Human interaction remains a vital reason why consumers still prefer to purchase products in-store versus online. Some consumers prefer shopping in-store, and are more likely to buy when helped by a knowledgeable staff member.
In 2022, it was reported that 49% of consumers had left a brand in the past year due to poor customer experience, as per a report by Emplifi.
Retailers can take advantage of this data by increasing and improving the interaction between sales associates and customers. Make sure your retail staff is well-trained on both your products and customer service best practices.
In addition, make it easier to return or exchange products (especially in-store).
3. Ask for shoppers’ opinions
Shoppers are already on their mobile phones when in-store, so why not take advantage of it?
Ask them to like your Facebook page, take a photo with your apparel and use your hashtag on Instagram, or share their purchases on Twitter. Incentivize this through contests, giveaways, coupons, and other creative promotional campaigns.
This only underscores the importance of publishing the opinions of your customers.
4. Turn your store into an actual showroom
More brands are embracing the showrooming trend in a literal way—they’re opening product showrooms rather than traditional stores.
Retailers around the world (like the examples below) are opening showrooms to allow customers to touch and feel their products and then have their purchases shipped right to their doorstep. No more carrying around heavy shopping bags or worrying about on-site inventory levels.
5. Offer in-store discounts
Shopping online has historically been cheaper than shopping in-store—which is why showrooming became a trend in the first place. Instead of resisting the trend, retailers should lean into showrooming and capitalize on the foot traffic by offering in-store discounts or product bundling perks.
Doing so will encourage shoppers to buy in your store instead of online or with a competitor.
6. Offer BOPIS
Buy online, pickup in-store (BOPIS) surged in recent years and continues to be a popular shopping trend. BOPIS allows customers to avoid shipping costs and waiting times without having to browse your shelves or find products out of stock.
Moreover, bringing customers in-store can incite additional purchases once they see your aisles and POP displays.
Shopify-based shoe retailer Allbirds launched in 2016 via Kickstarter. In 2017, Allbirds began dabbling in physical retail with a pop-up shop in San Francisco.
Since then, Allbirds has expanded to 59 retail stores around the world. From the beginning, the Allbirds team wanted its physical stores to be a brand experience, not merely a shopping spot.
Using Shopify POS, Allbirds removed the need for a static register, allowing it to make better use of its small retail spaces and provide a more interactive experience for customers.
This technology also enabled Allbirds to offer buy in-store, ship-to-customer technology—what’s often called an “endless aisle.” When customers come in looking for uncommon or out-of-stock products, Allbirds associates can still process the transactions, take payments, and have the item shipped directly to the shopper.
Bonobos started as an online-only men’s apparel retailer.
However, in 2012, Bonobos began opening Guideshops (its version of showrooms), understanding that some shoppers desire the in-person shopping experience.
At any one of the more than 60 Bonobos Guideshops, customers can drop in or make a shopping appointment, send their purchases directly to their doorstep, and make free returns or exchanges—even with online purchases. On-site experts educate shoppers about the Bonobos product line and help them find their perfect fit.
Bonobos is a great example of a brand that listens to its customers and adjusts to better serve them across multiple channels, further deepening their customer loyalty.
Canadian eyeglass and contact lens brand Clearly was launched in 2000 as a cheaper retail alternative to traditional optometrists. Since then, the brand has opened four showroom locations across in British Columbia, Toronto, and Calgary.
Why? Purchasing eyeglasses can be a physical process. Clearly’s showrooms allow local customers to meet with optometrists, get eye exams and contact fittings, and try on glasses.
Any purchases are sent directly to customers’ homes, and the showrooms offer special discounts and services like repairs, product exchanges, and free glasses cleaning. Providing both in-person and ecommerce services allows Clearly to reach customers of all kinds.
Glossier does most of its best-in-beauty business online and through occasional pop-up shops. However, the brand does have permanent locations in Seattle, New York City, and Los Angeles, with another planned for London, that operate as showrooms.
Here, visitors can try Glossier makeup and skincare products, talk with consultants and experts, purchase items in person, and experience the Glossier brand in person. Better yet, Glossier models each showroom after its location: the L.A. Glossier, for example, gives shoppers desert vibes.
Showrooming: Embracing evolving shopping habits
Both consumers and technology will continue to evolve, and businesses will have to keep up to stay competitive, relevant, and profitable. Take advantage of these showrooming and webrooming tips and trends to build better customer relationships and ultimately increase your bottom line. As these trends continue to evolve, you can leverage them to engage customers across new sales channels.