“Showrooming” used to be a dirty word for brick-and-mortar retailers. With the rise of online megastores like Amazon, showrooming traditionally meant that shoppers would go to brick-and-mortar stores to test, touch, and try products, but would ultimately purchase the products online — where they were cheaper and could be shipped directly to their door.
But showrooms aren’t all bad for offline retailers. In fact, a growing number of brick-and-mortar stores are jumping on the showrooming. Some retailers are even going so far as to ditch on-site inventory and shopping bags for showroom products only.
In this article, we’ll discuss why retailers are choosing showrooms and look at examples of who’s doing it well. For those ready to give showrooms a try, read on.
What Is Showrooming?
According to Technopedia, showrooming is the process by which a shopper visits a brick-and-mortar store to check out a product but then purchases the product online. It’s the opposite of webrooming, which is when a shopper browses websites to research and compare brands and products, but then completes the purchase in store.
Showrooming is popular because people ultimately prefer to touch, try, and test out products before making a purchase. After, 85% of shoppers still prefer to make their purchases in person.
Before buying clothes or shoes, shoppers understandably want to try on pieces to know their size and see how they fit. Before purchasing higher-priced items like furniture or electronics, customers prefer to test the product’s durability and ensure they appear or work as they’re described.
When it comes to making the purchase, however, showrooming shoppers leave the store and buy the items online. Often, they’re able to save some money, and they can get the products shipped directly to their door. But what if brick-and-mortar stores embraced showrooming and actually encouraged it? What if, rather than leaving a store with shopping bags, the purchase could be made in store and then the products arrived later at a shopper’s doorstep? Let’s take a look at what’s motivating retailers to try showrooming.
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Why Retailers Should Showroom
There are many reasons why a retailer would choose to set up a showroom over a traditional brick-and-mortar store, and it’s not just about competing with online retailers. Showrooms have many benefits, so let’s take a moment to highlight their most prominent advantages.
What shoppers experience of a brick-and-mortar store is just a section of what the business owner pays for. Behind or below the storefront is typically a stock room filled with additional inventory. If it’s clothing, there might be rows of shelves filled with stacks of neatly folded clothes. If it’s shoes, there are usually at least a few sizes in every style. Having a stock room to hold inventory can be costly. After all, a business owner might even need to hire employees just to manage all that inventory. But what if you got rid of the stock room completely?
You would reduce the square footage of your store, thereby saving money on your retail lease as well as your utility bills. You might not need to hire those extra employees to manage your inventory, saving you even more cash. Your brick-and-mortar shop would solely consist of the space you need to immerse your customers in your brand so they could experience your products. So every dollar you spend on rent and utilities would be invested in your customers — which would return to you.
Attract Younger Shoppers
In the past, brick-and-mortar retailers have found it difficult to attract millennial shoppers, who spend a disproportionate amount of time on smartphones compared to older consumers and prefer to do their shopping online. However, by offering the benefits of in-store experiences, such as the ability to test and touch a product, combined with those of ecommerce, retailers found that young customers were just as satisfied with their shopping experience.
A recent customer survey conducted by WD Partners found that of 2,500 consumers in the U.S., around 45% of respondents viewed the concept of showroom stores appealing. However, when millennials were separated out, that score jumped to 55%, while only 28% of baby boomers indicated they’d likely use showrooming.
Male consumers are also more likely to appreciate showroom shops over female shoppers.
“If I’m a guy and I’m fairly constant in fitness and weight, I can go to Brooks Brothers and try on my suit and chinos and then just reorder, and I don’t have to go to the store anymore,” Nick Hodson, a principal with global consultancy Strategy&, told Retail Dive. “So, then all my transactions might be online. Arguably, I might be willing to make an annual trip to a showroom and then place my orders online.”
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Focus On Customer Experience
When you and your employees don’t need to worry about running to the backroom to restock products on the floor, it’s easier to focus better on customers and offer a unique in-store experience.
A growing number of retailers, including Lululemon and Nike, have started adding complimentary athletic classes and workshops at select locations to entice customers into stores and keep them there. Some retailers like Nordstrom and Urban Outfitters have added restaurants and coffee shops to invite customers to stay longer and connect with brands in non-traditional ways.
Other retailers have jumped on technology growth to help them lure shoppers into stores. IKEA, Lowe’s, and Samsung have all launched products, campaigns, and services with the help of virtual reality. Meanwhile, Converse launched an augmented reality app so that shoppers could try on shoes. Lego has gone one step further by launching AR kiosks in select stores so that in-store shoppers can scan a box and see what the finished product will look like.
EXTRA READING: Want to know more about VR in retail? Read more about how virtual reality lures in customers.
In addition to cool in-store offerings, your employees can focus on product knowledge and helping customers find exactly what they’re looking for, rather than worrying about getting shoppers through a checkout line as quickly as possible.
Grow Brand Awareness
Showroom shops aren’t only for brick-and-mortar retailers to consider. The concept benefits small online retailers as well. Similar to a pop-up shop, a small showroom can help introduce your brand to new consumers who don’t typically shop online. It can also help build trust with existing customers who are able to meet the person behind the website and physically touch and see every product color, style, and size.
“Technically, a retailer doesn’t need to carry a significant amount of inventory in that showroom. Just a full spectrum of products and colors and sizes,” Andres Mendoza-Pena, partner in global strategy at A.T. Kearney, told Retail Dive, adding that his company’s research shows that ecommerce retailers that open showroom stores see an increase in sales of up to eight times.
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Showrooming Examples: Retailers Revving Up With Sample Stores
Just as we previously mentioned, more online and offline retailers are taking the leap into showrooms. For those merchants exploring the idea of a showroom strategy, here is a handful of successful examples to guide you in the right direction.
In 2012, ecommerce men’s apparel company Bonobos launched brick-and-mortar “guideshops” through a partnership with Nordstrom. As of 2015, there were 17 locations across the United States.
The guideshops serve as showrooms for their merchandise. There’s one of each color, size, fit, and fabric variation of every product Bonobos stocks in stores, so customers can touch, feel, and try on clothing without having to lug shopping bags out the door. Instead, store staff place purchases online and ship directly to the customer’s home.
Bonobos launched its guideshops with a deep knowledge of their main consumers in mind: Millennial males who find typical shopping experiences a hassle. At their guideshops, customers are asked to make up to an hour-long appointment for a personalized visit, where they’re greeted by a Bonobos “guide” and taken through the store. A fit session ensures the right clothing sizes are chosen and tailoring for suits can be done. Then, the Bonobos associate checks the shopper out using a laptop or smartphone and emails sizing and product details, so that customers can continue shopping online at home.
Bonobos is successful because their guideshops act as a hybrid shopping experience that closes the gap between brick-and-mortar and online. They’re able to introduce their brand to new customers who might not have discovered them yet online, while providing shoppers with a unique and memorable in-store experience.
London-based furniture and homewares retailer Made.com took their online shop offline with a showroom in 2012. At 4,000 square feet, the location in London’s Notting Hill neighbourhood was small for a furniture retailer; however, Made.com used the space to display their products like a studio shoot.
"Furniture and design is a special category in the sense that the products take up a lot of space," Ning Li, Made.com’s CEO and founder, told Dezeen. "Our business model tries to eliminate every unnecessary cost, like agents, importers, brands, and warehousing, including the physical stores. Whenever you have a lot of costs, you can’t pass on the savings."
Instead of stocking multiples of similar products, shoppers were encouraged to use their smartphones to scan QR codes to obtain more details about a particular product. There were also miniature 3D-printed models of furniture, postcards, and fabric samples for customers to examine.
Li said the showroom helped create a more cohesive shopping experience, helping to develop brand awareness and deeper knowledge of products Made.com offers.
Vancouver-based eyewear company Clearly, which was formerly called Clearly Contacts, is one of the largest retailers of prescription glasses in the world. In 2013, they opened their first brick-and-mortar store as a way to introduce its brand to new customers and offer a more customized shopping experience.
In addition to stocking a sample of its inventory, Clearly’s shops have optometrists on site to conduct eye exams. They also employ fit experts to make sure shoppers choose the right frames and lenses for their needs.
To purchase the glasses, Clearly associates would place orders online, and customers could have their glasses shipped to their home or they could “click and collect,” or visit the shop for pick up.
Opening the brick-and-mortar locations has helped Clearly compete with other brick-and-mortar brands while driving more shoppers to its ecommerce site. The company has further expanded their offline locations across Canada.
Are Showrooms Right For Your Brand?
As the number of online customers continues to grow and shoppers continue to crave multichannel retail experiences, more retailers will take advantage of showrooming and create showroom stores. A recent IBM report predicts that by the next decade, most shoppers will go into brick-and-mortar retail stores, try on clothing or test out products, then have those items shipped directly to their home.
“You need brick and click together,” Stephen Laughlin, a vice president and general manager at IBM, told Computer World. “The roles are going to evolve in terms of how they work together. We’ll see the role of the store becoming a showroom.”