Retail stores today have a problem.
It’s called “showrooming,” the tendency for customers to just browse in stores, but purchase online.
Retailers don’t like that, and they are finding innovative ways to deal with the phenomenon. (While also cursing Amazon.)
Pay A Toll To Enter A Store?
One potential solution is to charge a fee just to step into a store.
That’s what Celiac Supplies, a gluten-free grocery store near Brisbane Australia, decided to do.
They charge $5 for “just looking.” The store posted a notice about it on the front door that read: “As of the first of February, this store will be charging people a $5 fee per person for ‘just looking.’ The $5 fee will be deducted when goods are purchased.”
Meanwhile in China, Vera Wang decided to celebrate the opening of her new wedding boutique by announcing that “every potential customer at the Shanghai store will be charged 3,000 yuan ($482) simply to try on the gowns for sale.”
After a global outcry, she has changed her mind. A Vera Wang spokeswoman told Reuters that the charge was being scrapped as of Wednesday. “Please kindly be informed that Vera Wang has abolished appointment fees at her bridal salons worldwide starting from 27 March 2013,” the spokeswoman said in an email.
According to NPR, a store in Australia decided to charge $50 to try on ski boots. The fee is waived if customers buy the boots in the store.
Selling Experiences In Addition To Goods?
Other retailers are coming up with alternative ways of dealing with the showrooming issue.
Sur La Table offers cooking classes; at REI and other outdoor stores, you can play on the rock-climbing walls; Dick’s Sporting Goods charges to try out their golf-swing simulators. That way even if shoppers don’t buy anything, the stores can still make some profit.
Certainly, we’ve seen the effect of the boom in online shopping for a while now: consider the fate of Borders, Circuit City, KB Toys, Linens ’n Things and Ritz Camera, all of which have filed for bankruptcy or liquidated.
Creating the Café or Restaurant at the Bookstore?
From The Washington Post:
During an interview on BBC this weekend, UK HarperCollins CEO Victoria Barnsley referred to certain shoe shops that charge customers to try on merchandise. Perhaps, she suggested, bookstores could do that, too. The idea of asking customers to pay for the privilege of browsing physical books before purchasing them is “not that insane,” she said. Bookstores could become, in essence, “book clubs.”
Bookstores were among the first types of shops to run into trouble with showrooming, but increasingly they have found a way to sell books without depending on them to pay the rent. If you are familiar with Washington, D.C., you probably know Kramerbooks & Afterwords Cafe in Dupont Circle, which offers a wonderful restaurant and a bar alongside its books. Other bookstores are following similar models. It makes perfect sense.
Amazon, of course, is the arch-nemesis for many brick-and-mortar bookstores, but they are finding a way to get their revenge. Many stores, both small independents and chains, are refusing to stock books connected with Amazon.
So, for example, Barnes & Noble has decided not to stock New Harvest books in its 689 stores; New Harvest is a new collaboration between Houghton Mifflin Harcourt and Amazon.
I love bookstores; sitting at home alone typing a book title into my computer does not come close to the experience of browsing in my favorite local bookstore. But showrooming is definitely taking a toll on retail merchants.
What do you think is the solution?
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