Online Competition
September 3, 2013 - 9:30am
Use your own Internet store and top-notch customer service to fight showrooming and nail the sale.
Littman Bros. experimented with outsourcing the creation and maintenance of its online store, but ultimately decided that doing the job in-house produced better results, even despite the enormous workload involved.

Today’s consumers expect seamless interaction between store, catalog and Internet channels, culminating in a purchase of the product they want at the price they want to pay.

As a result, “showrooming” is now commonplace; a customer will check out an item in person at a brick-and-mortar store but then use the Internet to research and purchase the product at a cheaper price. Brick-and-mortar retailers are crying foul, but Dallas Market Center Executive Vice President of Marketing and Technology Kevin Strawbridge offers an alternative view.

“First off, people are coming into your store — that’s a good thing,” he says. “And really what they’re doing when they’re viewing the product online is just searching out more information. The goal then is to ensure that you have all of the information the customer needs so he won’t leave.”

To guarantee that you do have that information, plus to make sure that showrooming doesn’t get the best of you, two aspects are vital — an online store, and top-notch customer service and loyalty.

Littman Bros. Lighting in the Chicago area launched an online store in 1999 and President Benson Littman says that, although his business has gone through many ebbs and flows, a good online store is an extension of a good brick-and-mortar store.

“The ultimate experience for customers would be to take all of the positive things they get from the Web and then walk into a local store, like mine, and purchase a product,” Littman says. “The customer can have his cake and eat it, too.”

But starting and maintaining an online store isn’t always possible. Are showrooms without the resources doomed to be showroomed? Fortunately, great customer service and loyalty are also effective tools for winning the sale.

According to Strawbridge, sales associates should be trained to quickly, earnestly and genuinely engage consumers in the store. They should be well-versed in the products and provide more information than a website can. When price is an issue, stores should be thinking in terms of lifetime value —
get the customer to come back repeatedly to make purchases over time. Loyalty programs or community philanthropy are great ways to do this.

Debbie Webb, owner of Precision Electrical and Lighting Supply, Bethalto, IL, feels like many small showroom owners — overwhelmed when it comes to finding a balance between online and offline aspects of her business. Implementing online purchase mechanisms is cost- and time-prohibitive, and although the information is available, the resources just aren’t there to put it all together.

One thing that has worked for Webb? Starting somewhere with a concentrated effort. “The results we’ve gotten from a small effort are unbelievable — it’s just getting a focus, that’s the hardest thing,” she says. For instance, the store recently hosted a simple giveaway on Facebook to amp up its social media presence and got a huge response — new “likers” and potential customers.

As for the future of showrooming?

“I would equate showrooming to the grinding of gears on a tractor trailer,” Strawbridge says. “As e-commerce has come into its own, and mobile is now firmly established as a means of communication and shopping, there is a little shaking as the next channel accelerates. Like the tractor trailer, once in gear the road seems much smoother. In the end, we will look back and see showrooming as the impetus that brought many stores and businesses forward in technology.”

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