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How webrooming can be a good thing for the brick and mortar store this holiday season

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We are in the thick of the holiday shopping season, one that is shorter than average with only 28 days between Thanksgiving and Christmas.  It has seemed to many that the brick-and-mortar store is somewhat of a dying breed with the expanse of the digital age.  A few years ago, physical stores were very concerned about “showrooming”.  Leading retailers have developed strategies to use this to their advantage and change the form of showrooming.  IBM recently did a study that showed spending due to showrooming has declined over the past year from 50% to 30%.  Consumers are smarter and want as much information as they can find so they are more likely to browse online to find prices and product information before the actually make a purchase at a store.  So where brick and mortar stores before were worried about showrooming, now online retailers have to be worried about reverse showrooming, or webrooming.  Forrester projects that webrooming will produce $1.8 trillion in sales by 2017.
So how can brick and mortar stores benefit from things like webrooming this holiday season?
Mobile actually helps bring people into stores
The number of consumers that carry a smartphone has exponentially increased and with that mobile enablement has also increased.  Consumers are more likely to do real time comparisons within a store on their mobile phone in order to secure a discount.  A recent study done by Men’s Warehouse showed that of consumers who carry smartphones, more than 36 percent have asked for in-store price matching.  More and more, brick-and-mortar stores are getting better about utilizing online promotions and mobile coupons to help drive people to stores.  I receive anywhere from two to six coupons a week from stores like Kohls that are time sensitive and really influence my decision to go to the store.  And of course, when I do go to the store, I always end up buying other items that I originally did not intend to.  This is exactly what retailers want – they expect consumers to end up purchasing items that we did not intend to buy which in turn will help with their sales goals.  I am also a member of their loyalty program which offers me Kohls cash and specific discounts that pertain to similar categories of items I have purchased in the past.  According to a survey by Columbia Business School, it was found that 48 percent of shoppers reported they are more likely to purchase item in the store when they are part of a loyalty program regardless of the price.  Retailers like Kohls have recognized this and are using online offers and mobile coupons to again, drive consumers into their stores.

It’s all about the experience
We are human beings and emotions play a large role in the shopping experience.  Around the holidays, many people want to go to the store for the experience of it all.  The holiday season provides a fun and exciting atmosphere where people enjoy spending time on buying gifts.  The increase of webrooming has shown that when consumers are thinking about what they want to purchase they are also thinking about the experience of purchasing it as well.  As consumers these emotional experiences are ones that we want to share with our friends, whether it is sharing in-store what you selected or what you are looking for, the holiday season provides a great experience for consumers in retail stores.
Use online to their advantage
More retailers are starting to challenge their online competitors and are becoming more savvy about how to leverage their omni-channel strategies to allow the shopper’s journey to be seamless.  Omni-channel shoppers are spending 3.5x more than single channel consumers[1].  Leading brick-and-mortar retailers are combining digital and physical worlds in order to stay competitive with retailers like Amazon.  This year we have seen a lot of retailers start their black Friday promotions early to help stay ahead of competitive pricing.  Walmart decided to actually promote webrooming by offering to match Amazon prices.
Enabled Associates help sales
Consumers not just want to connect with the store and the product, but also someone who is professionally trained and sympathetic to his or her needs.  Consumers are now armed with is much information as possible in and out of the store and expect very high expectations of the retail associates.  Sales associates not only need to be armed with store data or product data, but data around the consumer himself.  Leading retailers are providing their associates with devices that help consumers find things online, offer recommendations, find specific product information and the ability to purchase right there. An in-store experience can beat online experiences every day and point to another reason shoppers opt for stores as it can be a much more compelling experience.  But in the end, it is up to the retailers to provide the tools and data that sales associates need in order to meet the high expectations of the savvy consumer.
It’s not all about price
There are a lot of things to think about when one is shopping – different stores, products or services, cost, and during the holidays those considerations are heightened.  Many of us wait till the last minute to start or finish their holiday shopping so time and immediacy becomes of the utmost importance.  Due to this, many consumers prefer to shop in-store after we do our last minute research online so that we can get the items we need as soon as possible.  There are other attributes about shopping that play more of a role besides cost that drive consumers to the store instead of online – immediate satisfaction of purchasing the product and taking it with you, quality and fit (especially when purchasing apparel), and physical inspection.  So even though online prices may be less in cost, it does not necessarily mean that it will drive the consumer to purchase online vs in-store.
[1] Source: On Solid Ground: Brick-and-Mortar Is the Foundation of Omnichannel Retailing,” A.T. Kearney,
July 24, 2014.

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Heather Bowman

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