As an update to last year’s series on Showrooming, we present a new trend in consumer behavior: Webrooming. A new study of U.S. consumers, conducted by professional services firm PricewaterhouseCoopers, shows that a majority of consumers are now shopping with this method – they’re doing their research online and then heading to stores to make their purchase.
While this should make specialty retailers feel better, it also presents a challenge. It means your employees need to have more (or at least as much) knowledge than a customer who has done a lot of research before they’ve arrived in store. It also means that all your online channels need to be consistent and up to date in order to bring the customers to your store – after all, they’ve looked at every site out there that can give them information and pricing on the item they want – they’ll come to you if they see your information lines up with theirs, because you will be showing that you have the same expertise as they do.
In our Showrooming series, many retailers across the country shared the ways that they were rising to the challenge of the new order in retailing. Here are some of the tips they shared, which support the above conclusion made by PWC’s study.
While the issues with the new order of retailing vary in every shop across the country, shop owners and managers agree that the solution remains the same: stay consistent online with pricing, offer outstanding service, and sell the lifestyle of our sport in a way that the internet can’t.
Chris Bunch, co-owner of family-owned Alpine Ski Shop in Sterling VA said, “Things are changing in retail, but it is not generally a huge problem for us, mainly because the MAP policy protects us. I’m a huge fan of MAP. Now, customers might find last year’s boot online, 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 the new shopping behaviors are not going away and he is accepting of it. “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.”
At Sporthaus, in Yakima, WA, owner Sig Fossum said his plan to bring customers into his store 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.”
Raul Pinto, co-owner of Boulder’s Satellite Board Shop, says the first thing he does to bring customers into the shop is to make sure his employees are the most knowledgeable out there, and the most passionate about what they do. “Our customers know we’re experts and we can say with confidence that we picked the best stuff. Satellite customers are considered tastemakers in the same way our shop is considered a tastemaker, and we want to offer the things that help them promote their individuality and be first on a trend. They know they can trust our staff to help them be a part of the lifestyle and lead them on a progression in their sport.”
Pinto takes it a step further by ensuring that his shop offers ideas and a feel the internet can’t. He says it’s important that the shop reflects the total lifestyle aspect and shows customers the merchandise in an innovative way. “Overall the interior of the store is special because it was all custom built by us. There’s nothing standard or re-merched into the scheme, because we’re selling the Satellite experience,” he adds.
“We try to merchandise the store with multiple brands in a way that have cohesion in each grouping while hopefully speaking to different types of customers. We hope this way of looking at the merchandise helps promote the individuality of that customer and they feel they’re getting something special by being shown the merchandise in a different way. There will be things that we see that go together, like a mountain look vs street wear, but we can also cross over certain items that will speak to a customer in a new way. The difference is that you might see these same things on stacks and racks somewhere else, but here it’s on display.”
The best news about the new trend of Webrooming is that the data shows that traditional brick and mortar stores are not becoming obsolete. In our category, shown above, we’re not as bad off as some industries, not as good as others, but at least it shows that a big group of our consumers want to visit a store at some point in their path to purchase. And so, even in the digital era, those expensive store leases are still playing a critical role in driving sales – as long as we keep hold of what makes our specialty shops special in the first place: expertise and passion for the sport.
As Pinto concluded, “I think it’s down to the people who genuinely love the sport and the lifestyle of it. And it’s impossible to have that lifestyle that people are looking for in any environment other than the shop that is right there in the middle of it.”