Consumers are growing increasingly adept at crossing retail channels to find the best deal they can, and NPD Group reports that the latest skill is “showrooming.” Shoppers hit physical stores first to see how a product looks and performs, then do their comparison-shopping by smartphone or tablet before making the final purchase online.
“These consumers are educated, engaged and ever-connected, between their laptops, their computers, their smartphones, and their tablets,” says Perry James, NPD’s president of home and office supplies. “We’re seeing this trend especially in categories where they might not understand exactly how a product works, and they want a demonstration, such as stand mixers or robotic room cleaners.”
The Port Washington, N.Y.-based market researcher says 15 to 20% percent of consumers are showrooming for such products as electric knives, sewing machines, power tools, and hairsetters. “Any product that is a little more technical and somewhat expensive is a good candidate.”
The discovery is good news for brick-and-mortar retailers, he says. “It means we are a long way off from a world of online-only shopping. The need to touch and feel a product before making the purchase is still very compelling for most customers, and that is what initially gets them in the door.”
Stores will be able to win with this trend by making the whole purchase cycle more convenient for both on and offline shoppers. While online sales of small appliance and home improvement products grew 20% last year, “retailers can work with shoppers to increase the odds that even if the product is ultimately purchased online, it’s through the store’s own websites,” he says.
Some chains are already working to strengthen that cross-channel traffic. Sears, for example, equips associates with tablets and computers, and Cabela’s just announced a smaller-format store that will include kiosks and assistance for more shopper-friendly ship-to-shore options.
“That trend, offering consumers endless aisles of choices, is really appealing to shoppers. They like hearing someone say something like, 'Well, we don’t have the model you like in blue, but we can order it online and have it here for you in two days.’ These systems are still evolving, but it isn’t all about price—people will buy from stores that can make shopping quicker, easier and more convenient for them.”