The retail industry and its buzzwords are ever-changing.
Two terms retailers may have heard in the last few years are "showrooming" and "webrooming." 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.
These concepts are the result of shifting consumer shopping habits. Now that many of us shop with smartphone in hand, more customers are price-checking products on the spot and using online reviews to inform their opinions.
Moreover, they have specific preferences for what kind of products they purchase online and which in-store.
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—we've collected a few tactics to help direct-to-consumer retailers of almost any size meet those ever-changing customer expectations.
Here, we'll take a look at webrooming and showrooming, explain how they affect your business, and outline specific steps you can take to make these new customer habits work in your favor.
Table of Contents
What is showrooming?
Showrooming is the concept of strategically carrying low or no inventory for purchase in your physical store. It's essentially turning your store into a showroom.
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.
💡 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.
What is webrooming?
Webrooming is the opposite of showrooming.
"With showrooming, retailers are faced with the challenge of customers coming into the store to browse and test products, only to subsequently go home and actually complete their purchase online (often through a competitor)," says Dr. Gary Edwards, former Chief Customer Officer at Empathica in a 2013 interview.
"Webrooming, on the other hand, is when consumers research products online before going into the store for a final evaluation and purchase."
Webrooming grew in popularity during the COVID-19 pandemic. Instead of spending afternoons and weekends browsing stores, consumers took to the internet for most of their product research. Then they beat shipping times and costs by picking up products in-store.
💡 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.
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.
They're also offsetting the impact of showrooming through the rise of webrooming. The two concepts may be opposites, but they don't compete—they balance each other out.
Showrooming vs. webrooming
According to a commissioned Forrester Consulting study conducted on behalf of Shopify, over the next year, 59% of consumers are likely to look at a product online and buy it in-store (webrooming), and 54% are likely to look at a product in-store and buy it online (showrooming).
Download The Future of Retail Report: Trends for 2022
As shoppers return to stores, the lines between buying online and in person have blurred. This shift in consumer behavior means it’s not enough to use the retail store for acquisition alone. Retailers must build relationships and experiences with their customers that only omnichannel commerce can offer. Download the Future of Retail Report to learn more.Download report
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 pick-ups for online orders
- In-store amenities like WiFi and events
- Smartphone discounts nudging shoppers to buy in-store (proximity marketing)
But what else makes customers want to come in-store to buy your products? Our 2021 Future of Commerce Report found that 37% of shoppers get frustrated when shipping takes too long, and 23% get frustrated when they have to pay extra for shipping. Webrooming removes these issues.
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. those smartphones we carry with us everywhere).
Let's look at how retailers can turn these pain points into opportunities for their retail stores and bolster their business in the process.
Benefits of showrooming and webrooming
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, 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.
Remove shipping costs
Ecommerce customers don't love shipping costs. In fact, nearly 60% of online shoppers say that free shipping would improve their online shopping experiences. 40% say free returns and faster shipping would improve their experiences, as well.
However, shipping costs can't always be avoided. 2022 will usher in higher shipping costs, which will inevitably trickle down to consumers.
Webrooming removes shipping costs from the equation.
Customers get products immediately
Customers have come to expect the wait for shipping time when shopping online, but nothing quite beats the sense of immediate gratification that comes when you buy something in person.
Webrooming gives customers the best of both worlds—the ability to shop from home while getting the product immediately. It eliminates not only shipping costs but also the waiting time required.
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.
"Brands should think of [showrooming] as opening a new channel for consumers to share their preferences—a strong and valuable signal that should be processed along with other consumer information to inform targeting," says Eric Bosco, Chief Product Officer at Nielsen in a 2013 interview.
"A smart brand would respect each consumer's choice to explore other options. A really smart brand would go even further to learn from the signal and discover the profile of consumers who are showrooming (and what they're looking for), then target other outlets with their ads."
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 and webrooming
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 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 backend. 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.
A commissioned Forrester Consulting study conducted on behalf of Shopify asked brands where their company is investing in improving the in-store experience over the next 12 months, and the most popular answer (46%) was showrooming.
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 content creation studios.
Oftentimes, artfully designed showrooms (like Forage Plant'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.
According to a commissioned Forrester Consulting study conducted on behalf of Shopify, 44% of brands plan on investing in increasing their employees’ customer interaction time to improve the in-store experience. 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 becoming commonplace for consumers: appointment shopping.
Not only has COVID-19 has changed how we shop in person, but consumers are now looking for more personalized shopping experiences. As of 2021, 50% of consumers reported wanting to be able to schedule a time for in-store shopping.
According to a commissioned Forrester Consulting study conducted on behalf of Shopify, 30% of retailers are investing in appointment shopping, which has become a popular way to mitigate crowded stores and maintain proper social distancing practices.
TIP FOR SHOPIFY MERCHANTS: Visit the Shopify App Store for free apps that help manage in-store appointment scheduling.
Virtual 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.
Virtual shopping has become more popular throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, and it's still growing—a recent commissioned Forrester Consulting study conducted on behalf of Shopify found that 40% of brands are prioritizing training their staff to interact with customers virtually in the next year.
How to leverage showrooming and webrooming
Offering a cohesive customer experience across multiple channels encourages shoppers to engage with your brand both online and offline.
Although customers like to research online, almost half still prefer to purchase in-store. Also, retailers with two marketplaces for selling generate more revenue than those with just one.
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.
Engage customers with personalized service and experiences
Human interaction remains a vital reason why consumers still prefer to purchase products in-store versus online. Despite COVID-19 fundamentally changing the way we shop, some consumers prefer shopping in-store, and are more likely to buy when helped by a knowledgeable staff member.
Great service can go a long way to lure customers and keep them. A Kissmetrics blog titled The Fastest Way to Lose Customers found that “71% of consumers have ended their relationship with a company due to poor customer service,” and that once these customers are lost, the average cost to replace each consumer is $243.
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).
According to a recent commissioned Forrester Consulting study conducted on behalf of Shopify, 51% of consumers said the ability to check out online and return items to a physical store had a significant or very significant influence on their decision to order a product online. In response, 44% of brands said they planned on prioritizing this.
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.
Also, encourage customers to review both their shopping experience and your products. Studies show that 93% of customers read online reviews before buying a product, and customers are willing to spend 31% more on a business with excellent reviews.
This only underscores the importance of publishing the opinions of your customers.
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.
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.
Buy online, pick up in-store (BOPIS) surged during COVID-19 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.
Examples of retailers using showrooming
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 23 U.S. locations and 12 global stores—all operated as showrooms. 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 them to make better use of their small retail spaces and provide a more interactive experience for customers.
This technology also enabled Allbirds to offer the 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. "We re-invented the retail store," reads the Bonobos website. "It's completely personalized, and we call it a Guideshop."
At any one of the 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 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, Offering 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, Los Angeles, and soon 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.
Like all of our offline spaces, the concept for Glossier L.A. is native to the city and the local lifestyle of our community—in this case, it was the idea of escaping L.A. and driving through the desert.
Showrooming and webrooming: 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.
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