Reverse Showrooming: A Look at the Other Side

In previous blog posts, we have covered developments in showrooming, the consumer behavior of browsing brick-and-mortar stores to evaluate a product before purchasing it online. We warned traditional retailers of this threat to in-store sales and suggested ways to combat the popular behavior. Although brick-and-mortar retailers may have seemed doomed by the prevalence of showrooming, recent studies paint a more hopeful picture.

The Data

“Reverse showrooming” (or “webrooming”) has actually been reported to be more common than showrooming. As the name suggests, reverse showrooming is the consumer behavior of researching a product online before purchasing it in-store. In a 2013 Harris Poll survey, roughly 69% of 2,000 American adults reported having engaged in reverse showrooming, compared to 46% for showrooming. Moreover, when a 2013 Urban Land Institute survey asked over 1,000 Americans ages 18-35 about their preferred way to buy electronics, shoes and cosmetics, more people responded that they preferred to reverse showroom than to showroom for those items. The survey also indicated that while showroomers spend an average of $174 when they make their ultimate purchase online, reverse showroomers spend an average of $204 when they buy in-store. These numbers should be encouraging to traditional retailers, suggesting that the balance may be tilting in their favor.

So where do reverse showroomers commonly begin and end their shopping experience? Perhaps not surprisingly, the online search usually starts with Amazon (the same destination where many showroomers end) and finishes at Walmart, Best Buy or Target (the same destinations where many showroomers begin). These shared destinations can be explained in part by the considerable overlap between the two groups – that is, many customers who showroom also reverse showroom, and vice versa. According to the same Harris Poll survey, nine in ten showroomers have reverse showroomed and six in ten reverse showroomers have showroomed.

Reasons Behind Reverse Showrooming

In general, understanding what drives consumers to shop the way they do is essential to any effective sales strategy. Some of the top reasons that reverse showroomers cite for buying a product in-store instead of online are: avoiding shipping costs; a desire to touch and feel the product; available inventory; and the ability to return the product to the store if needed. On the other hand, some of the top reasons people cite for buying online instead of in-store are: the availability of free shipping and online-only discounts; the lack of crowds and long check-out lines; and an easy-to-use website.

Lessons for Retailers

Armed with these types of data, brick and mortar retailers should feel better prepared to capitalize on reverse showrooming and attract sales to their stores instead of their competitors’ stores. Below are some suggestions:

  • Have a good inventory monitoring system in place. Perhaps this one is too obvious to mention, but if a retailer does not have the product, the consumer will buy it from another store that does, or forgo buying at a store altogether.
  • Create easy-to-use mobile applications and websites and set up in-store terminals that allow consumers to search for inventory, specifications, reviews, offers and coupons. Nielsen’s 2014 Digital Consumer Report estimates that 65% of Americans own a smartphone. And have no doubt that they will use it while in the store (even if they have already done some research beforehand). Great mobile applications/websites and designated terminals enhance the customer’s in-store shopping experience and keep the customer on the retailer’s own sites and content.
  • Incorporate digital marketing programs in the stores. For example, Target has a website and mobile application called Cartwheel which generates offer codes online for consumers to use in-store only. And last holiday season, Nordstrom arranged its in-store displays based on top items pinned on Pinterest, demonstrating that it was listening to its audience and ensuring that those items were in stock.
  • Integrate e-commerce conveniences with in-store ones. Online ordering and in-store pickup is a great example and one that more and more retailers are offering each day.
  • Offer convenient, easy and secure in-store checkout. Eliminate one of the top-cited reasons people avoid stores: long check-out lines.
  • Properly train sales staff. Many consumers still value having their questions answered by real human beings. In a 2013 Deloitte survey, more than half of respondents said knowledgeable in-store staff would make them more likely to buy in-store.

As the suggestions above show, the response to reverse showrooming should not be too different from the response to showrooming (after all, the two behaviors are far from mutually exclusive). As our virtual and physical shopping experiences become increasingly merged through technology and consumers constantly move back and forth between the two worlds, traditional retailers should take an omni-channel approach to satisfy as many consumer desires as possible.

Related topics: Retail, Retail Sales