Showrooming is up 156% since last year, according to a study released recently by Vibes Marketing. The report, called “Mobile Consumer Report: Combat Showrooming with Personalization,” found that 44 percent of consumers showroom frequently. After consumers compared prices on their phones while in-store, 47 percent completed transactions; 45 percent went elsewhere to purchase items; and 7 percent did not make purchases, giving retailers about a 50/50 chance for the occurrence of showrooming.
In this second installment of our 3-part series on Showrooming, we asked snow sports retailers how much they’re seeing the practice, and what ideas they’ve come up with to deal with it. We also wondered, with our industry’s strong MAP policy, how much is it truly affecting our retailers? In talking to retailers with stand-alone shops as well as ones that are part of larger chains, we found that it varies from store to store in relation to how much of the current season’s gear they typically sell. While the degree of the problem varies, shop owners and managers agree that the solution remains the same: service, service, service.
Chris Bunch, co-owner of family-owned Alpine Ski Shop in Sterling VA said, “Showrooming is not generally a huge problem for us, because the MAP policy protects us. I’m a huge fan of MAP. Now, customers might find last year’s boot on-line, and there’s not much you can do about that. I’ll price match whenever I can in that situation.”
“Customer service is where you’re going to combat the effect of the internet,” he said. “We sell our service and our ability to go beyond the sale, and that makes the difference. It’s the extras, like expert boot fitting and knowledgeable staff that keep people coming back to the store.”
Bunch said his Junior Trade in Program has been the most important factor for his store in building loyalty and retaining a strong customer base that comes back year after year. “It’s huge for us. It brings the kids in each season, and while the actual trade-in program isn’t a huge profit maker, the extras that go along with it are. You’ve made loyal customers out of the parents, and as the kids grow into adults they’re buying gear each year. It’s helped our business tremendously.”
In the end, he says he knows Showrooming is not a practice that’s going away and he is accepting of it. “It’s the 2014 season. This is the reality. In the end, you sell your customer service and you match the price where you can. You don’t get beat.”
Rich Steidl, Chantilly, VA General Manager of Sun and Ski, one of 30 locations across the country, says that true to the research numbers, he sees about 50 percent of customers comparing prices in his store. “It’s a lot of people, and they’ll just pull out their phone and let me know what they’re doing. Many will ask me to match prices, and I do that when I can.”
Steidl says that many of his customers will shop for past seasons’ gear, and most don’t care about colors or graphics if they can find last season’s product at a reduced price. “Price wins out most of the time, and when they’re shopping last season’s gear, the MAP policy isn’t going to help me. I rely on our store’s customer service programs to build loyalty and keep people coming back to the shop.”
Sun and Ski’s service programs include an unlimited wax program for the life of a ski or snowboard, as well as a one-year satisfaction guarantee. “The guarantee shows people that we stand behind what we sell and we’re here to make sure they’re satisfied on the hill,” he said. “We really try to throw as much service out there as possible, and I train my employees constantly to keep that standard up. It’s the only thing we can hang our hat on these days.”
At Sporthaus, in Yakima, WA, owner Sig Fossum said his plan to combat Showrooming includes price matching as well as customer education. “We see customers comparing prices on their phones quite a bit, and you simply have to match the prices; that’s the norm these days,” he said.
Fossum posts signs outside and around his store letting people know that they will match prices. “19 out of 20 times we’ll be able to match it. There’s a perception out there that everything is cheaper on the Internet. That’s what we’re trying to educate people about; that’s what we’re fighting,” he said.
“Obviously providing a knowledgeable sales person to a customer is one of the best ways to build a loyal customer base,” Fossum added. “We can educate the customer about the gear in a more in-depth way. If you can get them into a conversation and find out what they really need, you can get them involved in the sale in a way that the internet can’t.”
Stay tuned for our last installment on Showrooming next month, when we’ll be speaking with more retailers, as well as sharing innovative ideas from IT experts about engaging customers who are dedicated mobile phone shoppers. As we’ve seen, with a few clever ideas, brick and mortar shops can adapt. Because, as Sig Fossum said in the conclusion of our discussion, “Showrooming is here, and we’ve got to live with it.”