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Showrooming vs. Webrooming- what’s the difference?

hiking boots on a wood tableIf you follow Internet Retailer as closely as I do, you’ve probably read articles lately lamenting the rise of showrooming or proclaiming an increase in webrooming. Webrooming? Showrooming? What kind of rooming is next? And what do all these made up marketing words even mean?

Let’s start with webrooming. Webrooming is when you go online to research a product, but then you go into a store to buy it.

Showrooming, which we’ve covered before here and here, is when you’re standing in a store, and you pull out your smartphone to see if you can get a better price online. Ok. Makes sense.

I get the distinction. BUT. What if my shopping process looks more like this?

Step 1: I research hiking boots online, and I pore through reviews, weigh the pros and cons of features, figure out how much I’m willing to spend, and I narrow the field down to 2-3 choices that are in my price range. This process takes a couple of days, and I use my iPad and my laptop, depending on which one is handy when I have a few free minutes and feel like looking at shoes on the internet. I determine that Sierra Trading Company and Campsaver don’t have what I’m looking for.

Step 2: The next time I’m driving past Next Adventure, I impulsively stop to see whether or not they have any of the boots on my list in stock so that I can try them on.

Step 3: They don’t have my size, so I use my phone to check the inventory at REI, and see that they have two of the pairs that are on my list in a size 6.

Step 4: The next weekend, I decide to head on over to REI to try them on. It turns out the size 6 is too big, even with thick, fluffy hiking socks on, and REI doesn’t carry anything smaller than the 6. The sales person looks over my list and suggests I ax one pair because that brand runs wide, and I have narrow feet.

Step 5: So again, I turn to my trusty iPhone and find out that Zappos has them in a size 5.5, and I place my order from their mobile site, after double checking that doesn’t have a better price.

What would you call that shopping process? Webrooming? Showrooming? My quest for the perfect pair of hiking boots was a true omnichannel journey. Now I realize that not every purchase requires a five-step process, but I think my experience is typical of how many people shop these days. I have a couple of preferred stores where I regularly shop because I like their prices and return policies and I’ve had good customer experiences, and I check them out first. If they don’t have what I want, the search broadens from there. I use whatever channel is most convenient in any given moment- if I’m near Next Adventure, I stop by; if I’m sitting on the couch and my iPad is on the end table and my laptop is in my office, I use my iPad. I’m not alone.

I read a recent report by Accenture about holiday shopping last week (in Internet Retailer of course).

  • 65% of holiday shoppers plan to webroom this holiday season, primarily to avoid shipping costs and get the opportunity to see and touch products in person
  • 63% say they will showroom
  • 50% plan to shop with e-retailers and 42% plan to spend at least half of their holiday budget online
  • 36% plan to buy online and pick-up their purchases in store
  • 19% say they’re going to do research or make purchases using a tablet, which is exactly one percentage point higher than the number who think they’ll research or by using their smartphone

The challenge for retailers is in meeting me and all of these other shoppers where we’re at. While there are definite patterns of consumer behavior, every customer has their own shopping preferences, and for retailers to optimize sales and build a loyal customer base, they need to create touch points online, in-store, through their 1-800 numbers, and via mobile where customers can research products and make transactions. In an era where Bank of America is phasing out tellers and replacing them with ATMs and virtual tellers using video chat technology, and sales people are being replaced with apps and robots at stores like Hointer, a jean retailer in Seattle, where customers scan the QR code for jeans they want to try on and have them delivered via chute directly to their dressing room, some shoppers crave face-to-face interactions with a real salesperson. Other people prefer a Warby Parker approach to shopping, and prefer to order 5 pairs of glasses, try them all on in the comfort of their own home, and send back the ones that don’t fit.  Regardless of how and when a consumer chooses to shop, the customer experience needs to be consistently good on every channel.

Instead of focusing on buzzwords like showrooming and webrooming, retailers need to take a hard look at their retail and marketing and see what they can do to create a cohesive, consistent customer experience across channels. To create a well-rounded omnichannel presence, some retailers may need to look at how they’re managing inventory, while others might need to invest more heavily in mobile retail payment technologies. Some may need verification tools so that they can allow customers to redeem special offers across channels. As we wrap up 2013 and start planning 2014 budgets and priority lists, retailers and marketers should set New Year’s resolutions to make 2014 the year they truly go omnichannel.

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