When you see a customer looking intently studying their smartphone while in your store, you may assume that the shopper is “showrooming” — taking advantage of your shop to look at merchandise before ordering it online. But according to the consulting firm Deloitte and Accenture, recent research shows that nearly 70 percent of shoppers “webroom" compared with less than 50 percent who”showroom” before they buy.

This is good news for independent retailers. The process of “webrooming” means means that a majority of those looking at their smartphones in the store  are just accessing additional information before making their purchase — often because they’ve researched their purchase online before coming in.  (We also know from experience that shoppers are frequently consulting with someone else about what to buy.)

We’ve noticed the difference that webrooming makes in our shop. Instead of asking basic questions about knives and cookware, for example, some customers will come in with an impressive of background knowledge and some very specific issues they wish to know more about.

Some of us are old enough to remember the Yellow Pages ad (or indeed, to remember when the Yellow Pages were an important marketing vehicle) that said “let your fingers do the walking”.  The idea of doing some research before going out shopping is clearly not new.  An educated customer who knows what they want makes everyone’s life easier. And while we don’t have our entire product line on our web site, the internet has cut down on a lot of unwanted phone calls asking for items we are unlikely to carry.

There are many reasons that shoppers sometimes prefer researching a product online and them coming into a store to purchase it, the most popular probably being the instant gratification of taking the item home right away. (When you are cooking from a recipe that calls for a 9” tart pan, you can’t wait for it to be delivered from Amazon).  Avoiding shipping costs is another factor, as is being able to touch and, in the case of clothing and shoes, try on the merchandise.  And of course some customers are faithful to the “buy local” concept and want to support their community’s retailers.

But we shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that a major reason customers come into a store to make a purchase, even if they’ve researched it online, is that a good independent retailer makes the shopping experience enjoyable by providing friendly and efficient service. Creating an environment that makes visiting the store a pleasure is essential to a successful shop.

Happy Retailing,

Carol “Orange” Schroeder

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