Don Surdoval, from retail software provider Storis, offers advice for thwarting this bane of retailing.
According to research cited by Don Surdoval, 87 percent of smartphone and tablet owners use those devices for shopping, plus there has been a 50 percent increase a week in online shoppers between 2012 and 2013. The problem, Surdoval told an audience of retailers at the Las Vegas Market, is that brick-and-mortar retailers are experiencing increasing rents and supply costs. Not only that, but Surdoval notes, “As technology changes, it’s being adopted [by consumers] faster.”
The solution to counter-acting showrooming might be one that you’ve heard before – Customer Engagement – yet not many retailers seem to be practicing it. Surdoval asks, “Are you connecting with your customers? Customer engagement takes place all along the shopping journey — from when they are first learning about a product, to making a selection, paying for the merchandise, arranging for pick-up/shipping, and all the way through to returns and customer service. Everyone in your company is involved in engaging with the consumer at different points in the process.”
“Take a look on Overstock.com or Wayfair and you’ll see advice (i.e. How to Measure a Sofa, How to Put a Slipcover on a Sofa). And it’s not just the big companies doing this.”
All too often, store owners focus on only one area of service (i.e. sales staff, the customer service desk) as the engagement and do not realize that it takes strategic direction plus resources to make consistent customer engagement across the board happen. “[The concept of] marketing is being replaced by engagement. If a retailer is engaging with the consumer pre-sale or post-sale, that involvement is there,” Surdoval states.
“Retailers are also having to become content providers,” he adds. “For example, take a look on Overstock.com or Wayfair and you’ll see advice (i.e. How to Measure a Sofa, How to Put a Slipcover on a Sofa). And it’s not just the big companies doing this.” Brick-and-mortar retailers who are able to provide information (like these Internet sellers do) to customers will win their loyalty. It can lead to “reverse showrooming,” where people want to go to your store to see what you have in stock and then buy it on the spot.
Surdoval points to the rapid success of Houzz.com as an indicator of the comfort level consumers have reached in researching information on furniture trends. “There is customer engagement happening on Houzz that reveals the consumers’ habits and preferences,” he notes. “The problem is that less than one-quarter of U.S. adults are thinking, ‘sales associate’ when it comes to finding out product information. Instead they’re going elsewhere to be educated. Now, how can sales associates address this shift?”
One solution is to hold events that allow sales associates to engage with customers in different ways. “Williams-Sonoma is famous for this. They hold live cooking demos that bring customers around something other than a product,” Surdoval explains. “Digital signage and interactive displays are also new ways to engage customers to help them envision themselves using the product. Maybe you can have a video of people enjoying the product. If you are limited by space, a digital display (or video) can be considered to be an aisle extension.”
Instead of using email to announce sales, why not use email as a way to convey the information they are looking for by providing tips on selecting the right furniture style for their homes or what size lamp is needed to complement their sofa.
Another opportunity for engagement is during customer service. “Consumers are expecting individual attention, and not just at Point of Sale. You should be engaging with them all along. For many shoppers, the Customer Service department is the last impression they have of your company. It can be a defining moment,” Surdoval says.
Most notably, the old rules of retail have changed. “One size fits all marketing won’t cut it anymore. Customer engagement has to exist across all channels — and that’s where innovative retailers are breaking ground,” he comments. “Direct mail and newspaper circulars are playing a diminishing role in retail marketing. It’s the personalized approach that is big right now. Online stores know what visitors put in their cart, what site they came from, and what they were looking at the last time they were on your site.” Although technology is enabling this personalization, brick-and-mortar stores are able compete, as long as they start thinking differently in their marketing approach. “Customers are still interested in having a relationship with a retailer,” Surdoval sums up. “This is why engagement at every level is so key.” ?
For more great retail strategy please see our category: Showroom Lighting Tips and Tricks