Merchandising means “Don’t forget the ice”

If you have a retail storefront, do you have a solid idea what business you lose to big online retailers vs. the business you can depend on? What sales do you lose to big box retail? Perhaps the bigger question is this: Are you selling what your clients want and need? Does your merchandising support those needs?

Let’s backtrack a bit. Yesterday was a “honey-do day”. A retail experience or two is often required to complete the day’s achievements and “level up” to good husband for the weekend.  For me, retail shopping is more like a marksmanship thing than a grazing-like activity. I prefer to get in, get what I need and get out with a minimum of time and friction.

Sell what they need to finish the job

My first stop was at a big retailer that specializes in stuff you might buy on a honey-do trip. I picked up a corner shelf for the bathroom in a section of the store where shelves of this nature (free-standing or otherwise) are plentiful. The one I selected is intended for hanging.

Despite selling a plentiful amount of “hang this to use it” items across many departments, the store had none of the hardware needed to hang something – not for the item I bought or any other. However, they had what seemed like hundreds of (often ridiculous) “As seen on TV” items that prompted me to wonder who would pay for warehouse space for such things. But I digress.

I asked one of the people in the store if they had hanging hardware. They didn’t.

Why would you sell stuff that hangs without selling stuff used to hang those things? Because you aren’t thinking like a customer.

Thinking like a customer

When a shopper ventures out into retail, we tend to have one of two missions: “browse” or “complete task”. I think it’s best to serve clients on both missions. In the latter mode, we humans are often forgetful people. We multi-task. The phone rings. We leave our list at home. We’re imperfect at times.

Smart merchandisers can cure some of that.

When you go into a beer store, they have beer. They also have ice, coolers, bottle openers, snacks and other things you may need, or may have forgotten before leaving the house for a day at the lake. Sure, they are there to increase sales, but they are also there to save your trip by triggering any remaining “Oops, forgot to get ice” thoughts before they become expensive. It’s annoying to get out in the middle of the lake or settled in camp two hours back in the woods on a dirt road, only to find you forgot the ice. They understand that your needs extend beyond beer.

When you go into a fly fishing store, you can buy flies. For an expert who has what they need, a fly fishing store has local flies. For the noob who doesn’t have what they need (or the expert who forgot something), a fly fishing store has local flies, and just about any other fly fishing related item you need. They understand that your needs extend beyond flies.

Smart merchandising is good for you and your customers

At some of the best merchandised stores, you’ll find the mission completion items you need right there in the aisle with the item that took you to that aisle. These simple, thoughtful (and yes, sales-increasing) acts of merchandising save shoppers time and steps. They allow shoppers to avoid the time needed to dig around elsewhere in the store for an item. Even better, they may remind your customers to get the (in my case) hardware to hang an item so that they don’t drive all the way home only to realize they need to return to town to get the pieces and parts to finish the job.

Are these things incredibly obvious? Certainly. Obvious or not, does every store do so? No.

Be one of the stores that does.

Don’t have a retail location? Your online store’s shoppers have the same challenges. They forget the ice, or the cables, or the hanging hardware, and other little things needed to complete their mission.

It’s OK to be focused on being the best at selling the item your customers need – but don’t let them forget the ice.

And after Small Business Saturday?

Besides being a particularly busy Christmas shopping day, this coming Saturday is “Small Business Saturday”.

Once a year, American Express (organizer of Small Business Saturday) encourages shoppers to shop at a small local business and offers marketing materials to help small businesses take part in the event by encouraging locals to shop their store.

While you might be thankful that Amex makes an effort to place shoppers’ focus on small retailers for that all-important Saturday in November, and for the (hopefully) positive effect it has on your Christmas season sales, Small Business Saturday (and the holiday shopping season in general) is far more important than a one day sales boost.

For many shoppers, it might be the one opportunity you have all year to get their attention and leave an impression on them that helps them remember to shop your store all year long. Bottom line: Amex has gotten the ball rolling for Thanksgiving Saturday. The other 51 Saturdays are on you.

Not simply another sales day

Even without Amex’s help to promote Small Business Saturday, it’s an opportunity to do so many things because you’ll see shoppers you usually don’t see.

Show them why they should shop at your place more often. Make it clear to price shoppers that your prices are competitive, and if they aren’t, make it clear that your prices are justifiably higher because your products/services are of higher value, or that you deliver more, save time, save hassle, etc.

Use this opportunity to engage shoppers in recurring purchase opportunities, but do it in a way that makes sense for your clientele, not simply because I suggested it.

Collect contact information. While some are protective of this info, it’s often because their contact info has been misused or used ineffectively. No one wants to hear more noise, but most people will happily accept valuable info that helps them. Tell people what you will do and do that and nothing else. Let them be selective about the resources you send them rather than giving them only one choice.

You might have lists for monthly promotions, value shoppers, last minute (or low stock / closeout) deals, as well as for special events. Let THEM decide what list they’re on and treat that list with great care.

Make your place a refuge from shopping mayhem

We’ve all seen the news stories and video of the ugliness of box store Black Friday sales. People are fighting traffic, fighting for parking spaces, fighting to be one of the first 62 people to get the Barbie Turbo Fashion Corvette, fighting massive crowds and so on.

Don’t let your store become a part of that. REI decided to close their store on Black Friday. To be sure, some of this is about publicity and this decision was likely made based on their Friday sales figures (think about their clientele), but no matter what really drove the decision, they really are making a point about not taking part in what goes on during Black Friday.

While closing shop probably doesn’t make sense for you, the idea to stand out and take steps to be a refuge from the mayhem is a good one.

Standing out in a crowd

Think about the things that reduce the enjoyment that people get when shopping for gifts for the people they love:

  • Starting at 4am
  • Lines
  • Crowds
  • Parking
  • Dealing with “those people who only seem to drive/park/shop one weekend a year”
  • Shortages of items
  • Hauling around the day’s booty

Everyone’s list might be different. What steps can you take to take the pain, hassle and aggravation out of their day?

While it might be too late to plan and execute a big splash, do nothing wastes everyone else’s efforts and puts off your gains for a year. Even if you start today, a focused effort to do what you *can* do will help.

If you have a preferred client list, this is a great time to bestow a nice benefit for those who have earned the right to be on that list. Offer them valet parking, special shopping hours all to themselves and deferred pickup of items.

Let them order by phone or via your website, even if you aren’t setup to take their money until they arrive for pickup.

Next year, plan your Small Business Saturday

Next year, be sure to plan and promote your Small Business Saturday event well in advance.

Ask your local retailers group and your Chamber of Commerce to get involved in promoting the event both to shoppers and to local retailers, if they aren’t already.

Take advantage of the effort Amex is making, and the resources they provide to make Small Business Saturday your own – and not simply a one day bump in sales.

I love companies with slow computers

How much money do you waste by making your staff wait for computers?

For slow networks?

For slow internet?

For slow computers?

How hard do you make it for them to get their work done?

How many times has a hotel desk clerk apologized to you at check in time because their computer was not behaving, was slow, or was down? I don’t travel all that much, but I hear this fairly often.

How many times do you get similar messages from retail employees, or from customer service reps that you’re on the phone with?

Regularly, for me.

Is your staff’s productivity hamstrung like this? What impression does a recurring “I’m sorry, my computer is slow, thanks for your patience” message leave with your clients?

I love companies like this – when they’re competition for my clients. Don’t be one of them.

Your systems should focus on your clients

Do your systems serve your internal customers or all of them?

By internal customers, I mean your accounting department, the staff on the shipping dock, customer service representatives, sales people and so on.

Systems that serve your internal customers do things such as accept, validate and record orders, track commissions, automate shipment notifications, manage inventory and a multitude of other things necessary to make sure that orders for products and services are properly fulfilled.

These systems (investments, really) serve your “real” clients as well, but in many cases their service to the client is indirect. I say indirect because your client rarely sees this service, even though they benefit from it. These systems enable your staff to serve your clients, keep track of where their package is and keep track of the fact that they’ve paid their bill. That’s service they benefit from – even if it is indirect.

Clearly, these investments are valuable. My assertion is that these systems don’t often focus on the client’s needs, even though they ultimately serve that client.

For example?

You knew I’d have an example or two.

You’ve probably seen a cryptic medical bill at some point. These bills have improved vs. the bills of five or ten years ago, but they could still be easier to read. Focusing on client needs might mean making the effort to create a customer-focused bill where info other than the total amount due is intelligible to the patient and their family.

A recent cold snap snuffed the battery in my wife’s car. When I went to replace it, I had to take it to a different store in the national (but locally owned) chain where I buy auto parts. Because the store’s systems are focused on internal customer needs, they were able to see inventory in stock and tell me which stores in the area had the battery I needed. While that’s useful information to help me get a new battery, it fell short of the staff’s needs and my own.

Unfortunately, they had no way to access my purchase information from a few years ago so that they could provide the appropriate discount on the new battery, since the old one expired during the warranty period.

The last time I bought a battery from these guys, they calculated the discount from the date on the battery (ie: the month and year that are picked off at the counter when the sell it to you). This time, that date was considered irrelevant. Further, I was scolded for not having a three year old receipt (which I probably have, but haven’t found).

I asked for advice to avoid this in the future, since I was used to the prior system where the pick-off date on the battery was what the trusted. The guys at the counter suggested that I tape the new receipt to the battery so that I’d have it next time. It seems like a good idea, but tape plus battery plus Montana weather times three or more years tells me that reading that receipt might not be so easy in the future.

Where’s my warranty discount?

The discount was trivial and really isn’t the point, but the situation provides a good example of a business system that primarily serves internal customers. The store that sold me the new battery has the ability to check inventory of the store where I bought the old battery and get a part from that store – both of these features primarily serve internal customer needs. A missing internal customer need that would also serve the external customer would allow store personnel to confirm a purchase at another store in the chair, as well as track the purchase for warranty purposes.

You’ve seen this before. Pharmacies are able to track prescriptions at any of their stores and refill them in any other store even if the original was called into a pharmacy thousands of miles away. To be sure, there are laws covering the record keeping of these purchases, but they could make it much more difficult to buy in the second location than they do.

Why do they buy from you?

The point is that your clients have a choice. If your internal systems make it easier for your clients to buy, redeem, refill, obtain service, and buy again…. they’ll likely buy from you.

Earning Return Business, Part Four: Confidence

In our last three conversations about earning return business, we tap danced around something that is at the core of getting people to repeatedly come back to your business without a second thought of going somewhere else – Confidence.

Confidence is personal

As their confidence rises, people have this interesting way of insisting that others use their go-to business. You’ve probably had this happen to you. You’ll mention that you need a new dentist, or are going to buy a truck, put your family up at a local B & B, or want to get a fence built and someone you know will be positively rabid in their insistence that you use their favorite business for that purchase.

Some take it very personally. If you choose a business other than the one they recommended and have a less than ideal experience, you’re likely to hear about it until you share your good experience with their favorite vendor the next time you have that need.

This happens for several reasons:

  • They feel an obligation to you as a friend or family member and want you to have a good experience. In short, they want to do something nice for you.
  • They want that business to stick around, so the more people they send to the business, the better.
  • When a business knows you are sending them clients, they tend to treat you a little bit differently. We all enjoy that feeling of being treated a little bit special, much like the response Norm hears when he walks into Cheers.

Don’t underestimate that last one. Loyalty of this nature is easy to build with the right kind of attention and is invaluable.

Building loyalty with pizza

My wife and I often have a dinner date night on Friday and more often than not, we’ll find ourselves having pizza. There’s a lot of good pizza where we live, so the choice isn’t easy.

Despite all the great choices, we more often than not end up at a restaurant called “The Back Room”, mostly because of barkeep Zak. When Zak was young, he swam with our boys during summer swim league. Yet that history isn’t why we go there.

After a long work week, we usually sit in the TV lounge area at the end of the Back Room’s bar. Because we’ve been there enough times, Zak automatically brings us one of the rotators he’s sure we’ll like (and he takes the time to tell us about it) after ordering our favorite pizza (which isn’t on the menu) and salads – never forgetting our preferred substitutions from prior visits.

Zak has learned that we’re creatures of habit when we come to the Back Room and we’ve learned to have confidence that he will take care of us and remember what we like.

Earning return business via confidence

The more confidence clients have in you and your company’s ability to deliver what they want, when they want it, at the quality level they’ve paid for – the more likely it is they’ll keep coming back.

Confidence comes from a number of different places, but at its root, it’s about your clients’ peace of mind and friction-free experience.

Whether they’re  good or bad, I’ll bet you can think of little things that happened during recent interaction with businesses that affected your confidence in them. The trick is figuring out what those little things are for your business and your clientele.

If you’re looking for ideas on how to instill that peace of mind, here’s a few examples:

  • A Realtor who provides a refrigerator checklist to her clients to prove her mettle by listing in advance the things that she may have to handle for the clients during a home transaction. This sends the confidence-building message “they will not surprise us”.
  • A software company that documents the minute details of their in-house source management, build, testing and deployment process for their clients, raising confidence in the quality of releases that are publicly available to them.
  • Once a rarity, now many restaurants frame their city/county health inspection for all clients to see. Ever see a framed “C” or “D” grade?
  • “Pre-owned” certifications for cars that indicate what has been checked prior to putting the car on the market.
  • Banks that don’t have a deposit cutoff at 3:00 PM.

To a good business, these things seem obvious. No matter how obvious, the key is taking the next step.

How do you build your clients’ confidence?

Doing ahead, not just thinking ahead

Quite often, I talk with business owners about thinking ahead.

Something that happened yesterday tells me that I need to change my terminology to “Doing ahead.”

Why the change?

Primarily, I’m concerned that small businesses are thinking ahead, but stopping there.

Thinking ahead discussions often include strategic thoughts of putting yourself out of business by inventing new products and services for your customers that replace your current top seller.

So let’s talk retail for a moment, since they’re an easy example.

Every time you enter a WalMart store (something I try to avoid – I’m just not into the crowds), you’re likely to see something different. Just a little thing here or there that’s different. Sometimes it’s a test to see how something works, other times it’s the result of such tests.

What you never see is exactly the same store, time after time, town after town. Sure, the overall store is quite similar overall but there’s almost always something different. Something being tested. Something being implemented.

This effort isn’t limited to their brick and mortar stores. WalMart and the rest of big retail spend a lot of time looking at how they can improve the performance of their online retail properties. They have lots on their todo list simply by comparing themselves to Amazon.com – which blows away most (if not all) online retailers in end to end performance and customer engagement.

This is the price they pay for ignoring Amazon during their climb to cruising altitude.

What we don’t see is massive shifts designed to make the store or parts of the store irrelevant. It doesn’t mean they aren’t there, but they’re much harder to see in a brick and mortar store. Honestly, I can’t think of the last time I saw a brick and mortar store do something like this but I suspect I just don’t recall it.

Amazon tweaks too

Naturally, Amazon.com is working hard to improve what they already do – testing and tweaking their retail site and their back end (such as the systems that email you about things you might be interested in). You can see evidence of this on a regular basis.

Meanwhile – they’re doing things like what you see in the video above (More video here from 60 Minutes).

This isn’t just about speed, though that is certainly part of it. Keep in mind that this also means that Amazon can deliver without using any of the established shipping systems – all of which have legislative limitations as complex as those currently preventing the use of shipping drones. The only difference is that no one wrote a pile of legislation in the 1920’s to protect the USPS, Fedex or UPS – all of whom are just as likely to have drones in their future.

Parts of this are not just changing the rules but eliminating them wholesale. I would expect this to be implemented in other countries long before it happens in the U.S., due to the legislative challenges here. We’re already well on the way to delivering relief supplies via drone. Why not retail?

Learning while looking ahead

Learn from seeing Amazon look years ahead without a guaranteed payoff, hitting on pain points, looking to shorten the sales cycle (money loves speed), looking to eliminate competitive disadvantages with WMT, looking to improve/control shipping, etc – while ignoring the fact that they can’t put the drones into service and prepare for the day when they can.

They’ll be learning new things about their business and their customers as well.

The challenge for you and for businesses all over the world is not to see another way that Amazon will eat your lunch, or to think you’re safe because you aren’t in retail, aren’t near an Amazon fulfillment center or are in a rural location unlikely to be served by drones.

Your challenge is to think beyond the advances you’ve been working on or considering. Those advances are important, but you also need to be figuring out things that are years off, all while considering what will replace them.

The dangerous thought is to ignore these things because they don’t threaten you now and wont for years.

Why is that so dangerous? Because that’s exactly what many in Amazon’s market did a decade or so ago – and they still haven’t caught up from making that mistake.

Showrooming and the sales prevention department

Last time, we discussed the often forgotten reason for showrooming that happens after price shopping: convenience and time/fuel savings.

Remember Kübler-Ross’ five stages of grief? If you’ve forgotten, they are denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.

When applied to showrooming, it isn’t much different. Acceptance and the clarity that accompanies it are where the sales live. Even big retail is figuring it out.

Big retail embraces showrooming

Big retailers are starting to embrace showrooming because they’ve realized that reacting to and/or punishing it has proven ineffective. Learn from their mistakes, research and investments. Customers who showroom are likely to be better informed shoppers that you don’t want to lose. Their phone might help them decide that your store is the right place to buy.

Retailers that welcome the smartphone shopper in their stores with mobile applications and wi-fi access — rather than fearing showrooming — can be better positioned to accelerate their in-store sales – particularly with the holiday shopping season approaching.

Shoppers armed with smartphones are 14 percent more likely to make a purchase in the store than those who do not use a smartphone as part of their in-store journey. – Deloitte study for Saks Fifth Avenue

Most small businesses don’t have the resources to embrace showrooming with a smartphone app, or don’t think they do. If that’s the case, what do you do?

The simplest answer is to side with the customer. Do this by making the in-store experience so much better than anything anyone can provide online. That’s where it pays to visit an Apple store – where nothing is like retail as you typically see it.

The last Apple store I visited was in Portland. In an average-sized mall store, there were 28 employees on the sales floor – and all of them were with customers. I thought this was odd, so I tried another Apple store.

Same thing.  There were over 100 shoppers in the store. Almost all of them were in groups engaged in a conversation while they used an Apple device. Many of those conversations included an Apple staffer.

The sales prevention department

Compare that to the shopping experience in a typical consumer electronics store.

Try to test drive a Kindle. It’s locked in demo mode. You can’t pick it up and hold it because of the security device and short “don’t steal me” cable attached to it.

The display of the device is focused on theft prevention. Why is this a bad thing? Because theft prevention becomes sales prevention.

In an Apple store, nothing’s locked down. Sure, there are lots of people around to make sure you don’t walk out the door with that fancy MacBook – but the products are presented in a way that is clearly designed to encourage you to pick them up and try them out.

Unlike most stores that sell laptops and tablets, the devices aren’t cabled down, nor is there a password protected screensaver that prevents you from doing any real examination of the machine.

They make this happen because no matter what you do to the device, at the end of the day, they have systems in place to “wipe” them and reset them to out-of-the-box new condition, software-wise. This assures that the next day’s sales aren’t impacted by what someone might have done to a device. They can also reset them during the day if someone went really crazy.

It’s almost unfair to sell against a setup like that. Perhaps that’s why Apple’s retail sales per square foot are higher than anyone else’s – over $6000 per foot.

What’s different?

If you’ve ever visited an Apple store, you’ve never seen a dead machine, much less one with a message that tells you it needs attention from a technical person. You won’t see a locked screensaver.

Now think about other electronics retailers. Their sales floor machines are locked down that you can’t do anything and there’s almost always one that’s off in never-never land, waiting for some tech help.

Step back a few paces. This isn’t just about Apple, laptops or tablets. It’s about encouraging someone to engage with your product, thus *enabling* a purchase.

No matter what you sell, ask yourself these two questions:

  • Are your displays focused making it easy to fall in love with a product and buy it?
    OR
  • Are your displays focused on controlling the sales process and preventing theft?

Making it easier to buy is something every one of us can do. It’s price-based showrooming’s Kryptonite.

Forgotten: What happens after they showroom?

Plastic supermarket carts.
Creative Commons License photo credit: Polycart

The last time we talked about showrooming, I referred to a Harris Poll that exposed a conflicting behavior among shoppers.

The behavior? “Most” people (70%) say they showroom because of price, yet they often buy locally even if it means having to pay a slightly higher price.

That’s right, 70% didn’t choose solely on price. Once again, buyers say one thing, but when convenience and access to local expertise enter the picture, they often behave differently at purchase time.

The survey’s findings echo my buying tendencies – which surprised me a little. Shopping is not an endorphin releasing event for me. I’ll *always* buy from a store that is easier to get in, find what I need and get out of, even if it’s a little more expensive than a competitor whose shopping experience is cumbersome, time-consuming or just plain difficult.

Do you feel the same way about the brick and mortar stores you visit? If so, why would you expect your customers to feel any different when they compare shopping locally to shopping online?

In the last piece, I didn’t mention that the WalMart moving boxes were cheaper. What I did tell you was that they couldn’t tell me if they had them in stock unless I placed an order and waited “a few hours” for an email or a text message. Not convenient.

Claiming that price is the sole or dominant cause of showrooming appears to align with how people shop early on, but it seems research “forgets” to follow behavior all the way to the actual purchase. Recent research is showing that showrooming starts because of price but continues for convenience – so be careful about discouraging it.

That good shopping experience

Can shoppers have a “good shopping experience” at your online store? Can they buy and have it delivered? Can they have it reserved and ready to pick up?

You might be thinking “What a hassle. I never had to do this before. Why should I start now?“ While you’re probably right, that’s exactly what big box online stores hope you’re thinking.

Have you asked your customers if they have a smartphone? Have you asked them if they use it to visit your store? Have they ever walked into your store to buy something and found you didn’t have it in stock?

What seed does that plant in their mind? What will they think about coming to your place the next time?

These things matter everywhere, not just in urban locales. Fuel and time are costs people like to avoid. When your store or website causes them to waste either one, it doesn’t help you to become (or remain) the main place they shop.

The moving boxes again

Remember that cumbersome moving box shopping experience I mentioned earlier? What happened *before* I drove to Home Depot?

  • I ran out of boxes…but it was more complex than that.
  • I ran out of boxes in the evening when my local stores were closed.
  • I ran out of boxes on a holiday weekend when the local UHaul stores were closed.
  • I shopped at another big retailer’s site that couldn’t tell me if they had boxes in stock.
  • I shopped at Home Depot’s site, which told me exactly what they had (and didn’t).

My experience online reflects some of the complexities and frustrations of your customers’ lives when they shop in your store.

That frustration is also what drives people online – where they are often frustrated by your web store.

Take everything away that a local store can provide that online shopping rarely provides – and you’re left with the local equivalent of Amazon.com, without reviews and (probably) with a slightly higher price.

Is that what shoppers want? What aren’t they getting *prior* to making a buying decision?

Just looking

Think about why we say “Just looking” when we enter a store. Sometimes it might be because we’re just looking, but we often say it by reflex. If you really are there to buy something, I’ll bet “Just looking” pops out for one of these reasons:

  • Because most of the floor employees know less about what we came there to buy than we do.
  • Because you’ve already done your research and made up your mind.
  • Because you don’t want someone following you all over the store.

Is that why your customers say it?

The big showrooming lie: “It’s all about price.”

Last time, we talked about how showrooming is impacting the retailer, briefly discussed what causes it and covered how a home store’s effective website selling experience helped me save time by avoiding a trip to a store that couldn’t decide whether it could help me.

All the retailers say it’s about price and the research agrees.

Since everyone’s in agreement, let’s dive in.

What makes people showroom?

Piles of research make it hard to argue that showrooming is about price. A recent Harris poll indicated that 96 percent of showrooming was at least “somewhat about price”, while 82% said price was “very” or “extremely important”.

Ask anyone why they showroom and they will almost always say “price”. What reason do they have to lie? It must be about price.

So how should retailers react? Let’s look at a few real-world reactions.

What Best Buy did

Two years ago, showrooming was hammering Best Buy and their financial performance showed it. While it might not have been the sole cause, it’s tough to argue that it wasn’t a factor – particularly since their stores are reported as “most often showroomed”.

They first took an “us vs. the customer” stance. They blocked out shelf barcodes so customers couldn’t scan them. They required that manufacturers provide Best Buy specific product codes (SKUs). These SKUs appear in package and shelf barcodes. Since they’re unique to Best Buy, consumers couldn’t easily price check an item vs. prices at Amazon.com.

These strategies weren’t particularly effective, nor did they improve customer relations.

Since then, they’ve had success using these strategies:

  • Price matching vs. Amazon.com
  • Improving their website shopping experience
  • Offering more in-store promotions and discounts
  • Improving their on-floor knowledge about new products.

Half of these strategies rely on price. For now, Best Buy has the resources and buying power to price match Amazon and WalMart, but I think you’ll see this backfire in the long term.

Using discounting to make a sale breeds a relationship that’s easily broken. All it takes is someone else’s lower price to “steal” your customer.

I’m not saying price isn’t important, it’s simply a poor long-term relationship builder. The easiest customer to lose is a customer you gained solely by having the lowest price – so that better not be your only edge.

What WalMart did

Rather than fighting the price checking that built them, WalMart leverages having the customer in store – even when there to showroom.

They have an app that produces a list of items that are on sale that day, which is displayed on your phone when you enter the store. The app also lets you scan barcodes and keep track of what you’ve decided to buy.

They embraced their customers’ behavior to their advantage. While people might enter the store to showroom, they’re likely to buy something else they need if they’re made aware of on-sale items while in the store.

So why the “selling by price is bad” conversation for Best Buy and “selling by price is good” for WalMart? Simple. Their business models are much different. Unlike Best Buy, WalMart’s business model is designed around “Lowest price. Always.” and driven by world-class logistics.

The takeaway from WalMart’s showrooming strategy? Taking advantage of customer behavior you can’t change is much easier than fighting it.

What an Aussie retailer did

Earlier this year, a Consumerist story told of an Australian retailer who battled showrooming with a “Just Looking” fee.

Their strategy? Charge everyone who enters the store a five dollar “Just looking” fee and refund it when a purchase is made.

Is this really how you want to make a first impression with a prospect, much less engage a customer? I think not.

Consumers: “It’s about price, but it isn’t.”

So…what’s the big lie?

Remember the 82% of consumers who told Harris Polls that price was “very/extremely important” and the 96% who said it was “somewhat” important?

Despite those big numbers, 70% of the same respondents said that if they had a good shopping experience at an online store, they would be less likely to buy the item elsewhere, even if it was cheaper.

The same goes for local retail.

Showrooming is more complex than just price. A small retailer can address the problem in ways big retail can’t or won’t.

Next time, we’ll drill down on what’s really behind “It’s about price, but it isn’t”.

Are you being showroomed?

Multi-Touch
Creative Commons License photo credit: DaveLawler

If you have a retail store, you’ve almost certainly had people showrooming in your store.

If you haven’t heard the term,”showrooming” can be summarized as “shopping at local stores to check out an item before buying online.”

Showrooming takes different forms and includes:

  • Price checking items on the internet while walking through a store. That bottle of foo-foo shampoo is $28.99 at the local grocery. Maybe it’s cheaper online, so people use the barcode to find a price at Amazon. A showroomer might even order right there in aisle five before they forget.
  • Going to a local store to check out a product you plan to buy online.

Electronics stores and retailers who sell complex, expensive items like cameras are most often showroomed.  Seems harmless until you consider that the local retailer is paying rent, salaries and other expenses to provide you with a free way to make sure that thing you want is really what you want – so you can leave their store and buy it at Amazon or B&H.

Internet-ready smartphones didn’t create showrooming. It’s just easier now. The same thing happened to retailers during the catalog mail order era.

Rather than complaining about it, let’s take a different tack.

One antidote to showrooming: A decent website

Showrooming isn’t just about checking out products and then going home to order them. The good kind happens too – meaning your website shows what you have in stock that’s ready to pick up today or when you can deliver it.

I’m in the process of moving to a new place. One of the unbridled joys of moving is packing your stuff. With the long weekend in front of me, I figured I’d knock out a bunch of packing. Silly me – even though I started the day with 40 boxes, I ran out Saturday evening.

Thus began the battle. U-Haul places are closed because of the long weekend. Most home stores and some box stores carry moving boxes, but it was after six, so that meant I was out of luck locally and would have to drive to town. I don’t “drive to town” for giggles, so I started surfing in hopes that someone had them in stock. If not, then my weekend plans will change (yes, a little of me was hoping I’d come up empty.)

Call it reverse showrooming, but I want to find what I need before I go chasing all over the valley for no reason.

The first box store site shows that their stock is online-order only unless I want to wait a few hours to find out what they *do* have – and then only after placing a “pick up and wait for a call/email/text” order – which felt more like betting on horses.

Some sites make searches like this easy.

For example, Home Depot has a filter on their website that eliminates anything that isn’t in stock at my “home store” (the store that I’ve told the site is closest to me). That works well, since I want immediate gratification – if you can call a shopping trip for boxes “gratification” (doubtful). Anyhow, if I can see what’s in stock, then I don’t have to take a chance at a 36 mile round trip for no reason. Finding up to date store inventory info on their site means they help me avoid wasting time and money – even at full price.

In Home Depot’s case, they also have tabs showing “All products”, “In-Store”, or “Online” – plus the filter I mentioned above.

I drove the 40 minutes and spent the 40 bucks because my local retailer was closed (which is OK) and because Home Depot’s site had enough information to allow me to make a solid decision.

Why do people showroom?

One reason is price, but for many products, the online merchant has done a poor job of selling the item. As a result, the prospect has to invest additional time to find the product and make sure it’s really what they want/need.

Why can’t your store site do that?

TIP: Big corporate stores often use automatically collected product data pulled from manufacturer data feeds (I’ve worked on these systems). Want some evidence? Look at a nationally-sold item at several large retail websites. Is the description identical? Is the picture?

You can do better. Next time, we’ll dig deeper on the causes of showrooming and discuss some solutions.