Back in 1897, it was rumored that Mark Twain had died. Twain was unaware of the rumor until a reporter showed up at his door inquiring about his health. The reporter, disappointed that he missed a big story, went on his way. Twain was amused by the incident and later recounted the tale for the New York Journal, stating that he was not, in fact, dead. Twain’s famous words, “The report of my death was an exaggeration,” came from the Journal article.
Today, rumors abound that traditional brick-and-mortar retailing is dead. I’m here to tell you that’s not true. As Twain said, these reports are an exaggeration. Naysayers, in an attempt to prove that traditional retail is dead, point to dozens of famous-name retailers that have gone under in the past five years. They claim that brick-and-mortar stores are nothing more than museums, where tech-savvy customers go to touch, feel and test products before buying them online (a practice called “showrooming”).
Bullhockey. That’s not the case, especially in the antiques business. Losing business to showrooming is an excuse, not a reason.
New research confirms that shoppers who appear to be showrooming may instead be looking for a good reason to buy from you. A study from Vibes points out that:
84 percent of “showrooming shoppers” have conducted research while shopping in-store.
While a third of consumers have admitted to showrooming behavior while in a retail store, only 6 percent of consumers have actually abandoned the store and made their purchase elsewhere.
Nearly half of all consumers conduct research on their mobile phones to feel better about their purchases by scanning or texting for more product information while in-store.
So, when a shopper pulls out their smartphone in your store and starts to surf the web for price or connoisseurship points, you can be sure that in most cases they are simply looking for a reason to buy your item. They want confirmation; they want to be sure they are making the right buying decision.
When a customer exhibits showrooming behavior, you have a buyer in your store. The operative words here are “buyer” and “in your store.”
This person is not a looky-lou.
They are not there to spend an hour admiring your skill as a merchandiser. Why would someone spend the time and gas money to drive to your store just to order online, pay for shipping and wait for delivery when they could buy what is right in front of them while they are in your store?
It doesn’t take much effort to sell such customers; they just need a reason to buy from you.
Give them that reason. It doesn’t have to be a lower (or even a matching) price. Someone will always charge a lower price than you, especially online-only dealers. Let the weaker dealers take short margins. Value, not price, makes sales. Your item might be in better condition, or perhaps you have an attractive return policy. A big part of an item’s value is the buyer’s relationship with the seller: There must be trust. As a seller, you know (or should know) all the reasons why someone should buy from you instead of a competitor. Engage your customer, and use those reasons to establish the value of your merchandise.
Of course, the best way to engage your customer is through face-to-face conversation. I’m not suggesting a sales pitch; I’m suggesting that you show an interest in the customer, their hobby and their collection. Dale Carnegie, in his classic book, “How to Win Friends and Influence People,” states this succinctly: “You can make more friends (or customers) in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you.”
Alternatively, you can meet your high-tech customers on their own turf: Their smartphones. If 84 percent of showrooming shoppers conduct research while they are in your store, give them something to read by using QR codes on your price tags (Best Buy makes good use of this technique). QR (“quick response”) codes are those scannable squares that are often seen on products and advertising materials.
There is a high probability that when a showrooming customer sees a QR code on a price tag or display card, they will scan it (take a picture of it, actually) and then be taken to an informational page on your website. (By the way: If your store isn’t equipped with WIFI, you can be sure you are losing business.)
Your shopper gets the confirmation they need to be comfortable buying your item. QR codes are easy and inexpensive to make; you can learn the basics at QRstuff.com.
The key to effectively dealing with showrooming is to encourage the behavior rather than block it. Customers who want to research online will do so, either in your store or someplace else. Once they leave your store, you lose your opportunity to sell them. Give your customers a comfortable place to do their research: A table and chair, a cup of coffee and maybe a computer. Let them know that you have WIFI available. But keep yourself in the loop by using QR codes and other tools to make sure that you get the sale.
Jack Philbin, co-founder and CEO of Vibes, says this: “Today, consumers are turning to their mobile phones to make purchasing decisions, which means that access to mobile-optimized content needs to be an effortless experience for the mobile consumer. Retailers who understand this and listen to their customers to engage them on their terms and provide them with relevant and timely information they can use will be successful in building a loyal customer base.”
Rumors of the death of brick-and-mortar retail are greatly exaggerated. Let’s not have a wake; let’s have a celebration instead. Business is about to get much better.
Previously published in Antique Trader Magazine