Showrooming must have been the retail buzzword of 2013. According to a report by software provider Cognizant, 80 per cent of UK shoppers have browsed in-store before purchasing online in the past three months, and 10 per cent of those use their smartphones to check prices online while in-store. So how do retailers and brands alike combat the showrooming phenomenon in 2014 and beyond?
First they need to offer consumers a new dimension to their shopping experience. According to 2012 statistics from Temkin Group, 81 per cent of consumers are more likely to purchase following a good customer service experience. This is something that can give real-world retailers an edge over online competitors.
There are some simple ways to deliver a truly great customer experience, such as the selection and training of core brand teams. This ensures people can interact with true product experts who live and breathe a brand and are able to create an experience at the point of purchase.
However, one of the fundamental changes that needs to happen on the UK high street is the cultivation of great relationships between brands and the retailers that sell their goods. By working together both can reap the benefits.
Rooming with a view
When Sage Appliances launched across the UK in John Lewis department stores, demonstration was a key component of the marketing strategy due to the unique nature of its kitchen appliances. According to TGI data, 41 per cent of UK shoppers who experience live product demonstrations purchase from where the product is promoted. John Lewis understood the benefits of in-store demonstrations and backed the implementation of the UK-wide programme.
The department store’s flagship Oxford Street demonstration kitchen is invaluable to brands that are able to really showcase their appliances in an environment consumers can associate with.
Seasonal demonstrations and affiliations with popular culture and wider media also help, and allow department stores to offer an engaging shopping experience for their customers.
While many talk about the death of the UK high street, I cannot see it happening, although it does need to adapt. There has been much talk about high streets becoming the showrooms of the future.
Online design-led furniture company Made.com recently opened a Notting Hill showroom for consumers to interact with its products before purchasing them online.
While this is clearly a great idea for Made.com, the high street is ingrained in our shopping culture and is not merely a way to browse product ranges.
There are already signs that ‘webrooming’ (browsing products online before purchasing in-store) is overtaking showrooming. A recent Accenture survey of 6,000 global respondents reports that 88 per cent of consumers admit to browsing online before buying in-store, compared with 77 per cent who have showroomed. This suggests that not every consumer is concerned purely with price and that brick-and-mortar shops really do still have a place in our lives.
This does, therefore, provide a good argument for online retailers and brands to have a physical presence on the high street. As humans, we like to have social experiences. If virtual brands can have a real-life, engaging experience with consumers they are more likely to build longer-term relationships with them. Forward-thinking eBay has been first in line to try to achieve this with experience-led pop-up shops and partnerships with Argos, allowing shoppers to ‘click and collect’.
Two become one
This highlights how retailers need to join the dots between their online and offline offerings. They are really one and the same thing for consumers now and can be used to complement one another.
With the online and physical retail worlds colliding, investment in technology is paramount not only to seamlessly link the purchase process but also to enhance shoppers’ experiences when interacting with brands.
The extent to which retail brands invest will vary. Brands that do not currently retail directly will need to work closely with retailers to ensure they can do everything possible on a smaller scale to enhance the consumer experience. This could be as simple as inventive POS to utilise touchscreens, or mirrors and lighting to act as an attractor.
Alternatively, in-store demonstrators can use tablets to show consumers online product reviews and price comparisons. This helps the shopper trust they are getting the best deal, encouraging a purchase while they enjoy a great in-store service experience.
However, this could go even further. After a product demonstration, if the consumer is still reluctant to purchase on the spot, the demonstrator could encourage the download of an augmented reality app to show the shopper what the selected furniture or appliance would look like in their home.
This would drive data capture for the brand and include calls to action to drive future purchase online.
Of course it will be the big brands that have always pushed the boundaries that will continue to experiment and invest in technologies to enhance the consumer retail experience. Luxury goods and sports brands have for some time had a monopoly on creating engaging in store experiences.
Take Burberry’s augmented reality beauty stores and live in-store streaming of fashion shows or Louis Vuitton’s various pop-up and concept stores. Louis Vuitton has been able to create immersive retail theatre via its Selfridges Town House in 2013 and its 2012 collaboration with Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama to create a collection of garments featuring Kusama’s obsessional polka dot patterns.
Nike has done everything from turning its flagship retail outlets into exercise centres, taking over the London Eye and using state-of-the-art technology to produce a range of multi-sensory experiences.
It is a wonder, though, why mainly fashion and youth brands are using retail theatre to drive loyalty, awareness and sales. Retail theatre can be achieved on multiple levels and budgets. When brands and retailers work with agencies to put the shopper first in their approach to retail, engaging experiences at point of purchase can have a huge impact on the bottom line.