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Combatting Virtual Showrooming

VP site only PriceWaiter head shotShowrooming has been around for decades. With the rise in the internet and technology, we’ve watched showrooming evolve and branch out, now manifesting itself in many ways.

Showrooming (old):  Shoppers try on shoes at your local store only to buy from your local competitor.

First, it started with consumers rolling into a brick-and-mortar shoe store, trying on shoes and then buying at a local competitor or maybe a big-box catalog. You knew this was taking place but could only focus on winning the loyal customers, carrying different brands and leveraging your relationships with your manufacturers to keep your prices low.   

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Showrooming (new):  Shoppers try on shoes at your local store only to buy from Zappos.com.

Mobile technology continues to aggressively grow and has made it easier than ever for consumers to showroom at physical stores. Apps like RedLaser, TheFind and Amazon PriceCheck give these consumers instant feedback on how in-store pricing compares to the best the web has to offer — often with little or no tax and shipping. The rise in this new tech-fueled showrooming has even led some retailers to go so far as to charge “fitting fees,” charging all visitors to their store only to refund that fee if the visitor made a purchase.

Webrooming:  Shoppers browse shoes at FootLocker.com only to buy from a local store.

More recently, the opposite of showrooming has been getting attention under the label “webrooming”. Dr. Gary Edwards, chief customer officer of Empathica defines webrooming as “when consumers research products online before going into the store for final evaluation and purchase.” Although e-Commerce continues to grow rapidly, some see the growth in offline sales as double the volume of e-Commerce growth. Webrooming is clearly playing a role in this growth. Optimizing for local search and pursuing an omnichannel approach is important as this trend continues.

Virtual Showrooming:  Shoppers browse shoes at FootLocker.com only to buy from Zappos.com.

What is often lost in today’s discussion about showrooming is how the online retailer is affected by a similar kind of showrooming — virtual showrooming — on their e-Commerce site.

Stores on the web, like their brick-and-mortar counterparts, invest heavily in their shops. They pay for ads, marketing and PR to attract traffic. They spend money on their stores to make them attractive. Many hold inventory, and most have staff dedicated to sales, delivery and customer service.

Analytics-savvy retailers will realize showrooming is happening just like with brick and mortar — only faster, on a larger scale and more measurably. Unlike the brick-and-mortar stores, you know the precise conversion rate of your e-Commerce operation. If you’re doing well you may be converting 2% to 4% of your traffic. So what’s happening to that other 96% to 98% of traffic you likely paid for?

The Challenge:  Frictionless, Anonymous Comparison Shopping

Sure, some online shoppers are only to the research phase of their purchase and aren’t ready to buy (think webrooming). Others may be loyal customers checking in on new arrivals or current promotions. But how many are virtually showrooming?

These comparison shoppers have no limitations on hopping in and out of stores online. Comparison shopping engines like PriceGrabber and Google Shopping increasingly grow in popularity, and the big guys like Amazon, eBay and Walmart continue to swallow online traffic. There are even browser extensions that proactively show your shoppers the same product page for a lower price elsewhere on the web.

“Deal” With It

What factors are “showroomers” considering when they hop from site to site? What can you do to keep them in your store and commit to purchase? Commodification has consumed the internet and price is now the primary driver in a retailer’s success or failure. As competition intensifies, price proliferates as the top consumer consideration for purchase decisions.

Depending on your budget, dynamic pricing tools offer real-time ability to change prices on your product pages based on factors like conversion and margin increases. Although its usage may be low, price-matching and call-for-best-pricing are additional ways to capture sales from price-sensitive shoppers.

A name your price tool is another innovative strategy to consider – it engages showroomers by establishing an efficient negotiation process that also mitigates effects of Minimum Advertised Pricing. The art of negotiation is a concept often lost in e-commerce, and a new generation of connected consumers crave a more in-depth experience with the brands they love.

Service Still Matters

Beyond price, showroomers are also concerned with your service, and if you can demonstrate it is better, it can make a difference. How do your customer service and policies stack up against the competition? Do your phone lines lead to a person quickly, consistently and throughout the day? Do you offer a live chat option? Do you have a generous return policy, or even a trial period? What about free home delivery or other guarantees? If you’re able to maintain inventory be sure to use in-stock indicators and prominent shipping notices. You can even use schema.org markup to let users see product availability directly on search engine result pages.

What Makes Your Site Special?

Google has always held the premise that sites should be useful for users first and the search engines second. They preach quality, unique content throughout their SEO guide as they know that is what users want. If you aren’t offering quality product descriptions and other unique information to help shoppers, you’re missing the mark.

Product reviews from your staff and/or customers is also a key way to differentiate your site from the competition. Feedback from certified buyers will instill confidence in other consumers, and a focus on incentivizing buyers to become reviewers will help build a solid community on your site that leads to more sales.

React Accordingly

Even with increased conversion rates you’ll still want to target users as they move on from your site. Exit-intent tools like Bounce Exchange can help users think twice about hitting that back button or closing your tab. Offering coupons or other incentives to garner email addresses right before exit can help assist with micro-conversions – letting you live to fight another day with targeted follow-up email campaigns.

Showrooming lives on and is evolving quickly in the digital age. But like the shoe store owner, whether you’re on Main Street, on the web — or both — you can succeed if you evolve along with it.


As the Co-Founder and COO at PriceWaiter, Andrew Scarbrough is revolutionizing e-Commerce and the future of price strategy with an innovative “Name Your Price” platform that engages more customers, converts more sales and makes MAP moot. In addition to founding PriceWaiter, Scarbrough is the Co-Founder and COO at Delegator.com. With a background in web analytics, search engine optimization (SEO), social media and conversion optimization, he has played a significant role in the development and execution of successful SEO, e-Commerce and web marketing strategies for companies both large and small. 

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