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Thread: Will 'showrooming' kill businesses?

  1. #1

    Default Will 'showrooming' kill businesses?

    article from cnn that can probably fuel some interesting discussion...

    (CNN) -- In a bookstore, I saw a woman taking photograph after photograph of newly released titles that were arranged on a shelf. She was using her phone to take the pictures.
    I didn't understand. Why would anyone want to take pictures of books?
    Then, at a restaurant, waiting for a table, I heard two men, also waiting, talking. One said he had just ended a frustrating day at the store he owned.
    "Do they think I'm a showroom?" he said.
    2010: Shoppers use phones to get deals
    He mentioned people who had come into his shop that day, had looked at the merchandise, had taken notes -- and then had left.
    "Do they think I don't know what they're doing?" he said.
    It is a relatively new phenomenon. Among retail merchants -- owners of stores both small and large -- it has a name:
    No one showrooms by choice.
    And it represents a potential sea change in American life. Its implications are vast.
    As described in an article by reporter Amy Zimmerman in the Wall Street Journal, showrooming is "when shoppers come into a store to see a product in person, only to buy it from a rival online, frequently at a lower price."
    Say a merchant owns a retail store -- a brick-and-mortar store, on a city street. He or she hires staff, pays rent, writes checks for electricity and telephone service, pays for janitorial work, pays real estate and sales taxes, invests heavily in merchandise.
    And hopes against hope that customers will come in, look around and buy something. This is how the retail sales business has always worked.

    But in recent years, as online companies without a single physical store have risen to prominence, something new has occurred.
    People will come into stores, look around, stop at items they particularly like -- and instead of carrying them to the cash register, will take photos of them, or type a description into their smartphones.
    Then, in many cases, they will go home, enter the product into a search engine and find some online-only merchant -- a merchant who has no real-life stores -- who is selling the item for less money.
    A tap of the "Enter" key, a few keystrokes to provide credit card information, and the item -- the item the person has examined and liked in the brick-and-mortar store -- is on its way to the buyer's home.
    It's all so effortless.
    The online merchant wins. The purchaser wins.
    Who loses?
    You know the answer. The loser is the owner of that real-life store: the person who has stocked the merchandise, hired the staff, paid to keep the store cool in summer and warm in winter, written the rent checks and the tax checks.
    It is no wonder merchants are feeling frustration and anger that their stores are being considered as little more than showrooms by some shoppers -- showrooms displaying merchandise that, if the people wandering the aisles go home and buy from an online vendor, will provide not a cent in revenue to the owner of the real store.
    Do the customers ever look into the eyes of the proprietor of the store and wonder if this new way is fair to him?
    As Brad Tuttle of Time magazine has written:
    "Most consumers don't really care how, or even if, a retailer makes money. All they care about is which one has the best products at the cheapest prices. The ideal situation is one in which they can inspect merchandise in person, and then buy it at the cheapest price without having to schlep it to and from the car, and without having to pay extra for delivery."
    What's the difference, you may ask? Why does this matter?
    It will matter when and if critical mass is reached, and online-only merchants, who don't have to underwrite the expense of having traditional stores on city streets, reach dominance. Then, one by one, the stores that have unwillingly become showrooms for the online merchants will fold up. And the American downtown-and-mall landscape will begin to look barren.
    A doomsday scenario? Perhaps. But "just browsing" has taken on a different meaning in the context of shoppers who go home and use their computers' browsers to find online retailers who will undercut the conventional stores.
    Last weekend I was in central Ohio for the annual charity race we hold to raise cancer-research money in memory of my late friend Jack Roth. I asked his daughter, Maren, who owns a women's boutique called Rowe, whether she was familiar with the showrooming phenomenon.
    She said she has seen it with her own eyes, in her own store. "If they tell you how much they like an item, and take a picture of it and then leave the store and you never hear from them again, it's a pretty good indication that they may be going home and looking for a better price online," she said.
    "And if they call the store later and ask you to tell them the specific style name and number of the item -- then you really know. They're putting the merchandise they saw in your store into a search engine."
    It's not just smaller merchants like Roth. Target, the retail-store giant, wrote a letter to its vendors this year that said, "What we aren't willing to do is let online-only retailers use our brick-and-mortar stores as a showroom for their products and undercut our prices without making investments, as we do, to proudly display your brands."
    What all this will eventually do to old-style stores is anyone's guess. Perhaps they will be judged to have outlived their usefulness.
    In the meantime, merchants will continue to open their doors each morning in the hopes that the people who come in will really intend to buy something.
    There is a longstanding axiom that business owners are supposed to believe in: "The customer is always right."
    But in this emerging era in which people come into stores taking photos and making lists, with no intention to give the store owner their business, worried merchants can't be blamed if they look around their shops and ask themselves:
    Who, and what, is a customer?
    LOVE THE SHIRST... HOW much?

  2. #2


    I personally feel that the "experience" that stores, (all types of stores), spent so much time trying to conceptualise and create has non or little effect on present day consumers.

    The important question that I think should be asked is, What are the consumers really purchasing.

    I guess you cant really draw comparison between a book store and a boutique because they feed totally different needs. Its a problem that cant be helped IMO and is no different from global warming. Consumers just have to be educated about the negative effects their actions may cause.

  3. #3


    I think that largely, the customers mentioned above are not conscious; they don't see their actions as any form of "choice" that affects businesses

    You could take most of the affiliate boutiques as a counter-example:

    because of the service and experience they CAN provide, we can choose to pay a marginally higher price than the cheapest available because we CHOOSE to patronize a business that we think best represents our vision of a business.

    The problem I think is one that has been building for years -- there is so little social consciousness in America (or most modern societies for that matter)

    EDIT: lets be honest, even half the people that choose to shop local or fair trade probably dont know why they are

  4. #4


    the problem is deeper than that,

    i can understand the store owners frustration but as technology evolves and information travels quicker, the stores/merchants need to be able to adapt and catch up, the fact that people have cell phones and call bullshit on your prices means that you are doing something wrong, retailers need to do better

    it is a collective fault from manufacturer to retailer having fragmented processes and store outputs, for example apple, no one will find a better deal online on brand new apple products because they control their manufacturing and retail output and price, take an example of clothing, they dont control their retailer output or at least its rare, there have been dozens of times where i saw one piece of clothing at a bad price in a retail store and then found it at a better price online, so who messed up, really its a collective fault, i think a retailer needs to be aware of the market and adjust prices, sometimes you can directly order from a manufacturer at a lower price compared to the retail store, in this case maybe the manufacturer aka owner of product needs to control mark up or not sell their own merchandise a better price. for manufacturers i think they need to choose to either control and sell their own stuff or not at all and allow retailers to control the pricing (i dont like this option).

    sadly its money at end of day, retailers mark up too much and cant compete against online and this will be a downward spiral until you get a lot of places like "zappos" where its free shipping and returns that become store fronts at better prices

  5. #5


    To what extent does the consumed item need to be 100% tangible? Made to measure products are never handled before purchase, neither are online ones. The downtown-and-mall landscape is a little on the "surplus value" side, is it not? Would we, as a society, not benefit from online shopping? Imagine all the waste of overstocking becoming a thing of the past. All the resources saved by ordering directly, rather than driving to a shop?

    After all, we aren't just talking about dolled up incense-burning boutiques here, we're also talking big huge retail outlet shops. Will clothing purchasing go the way of the book? The Amazon way? What's the problem with that?

    On the other hand, removing tactility and "feeling" from the clothing 'experience' could likely become a crushing blow to that rich aspect of the industry... Which is not that bad if you're just buying AA hoodies, but consider some of the higher end brands out there. If Marsell uses Guidi leather but their products look the same as Aldo's when viewed online, here is where the whole content becomes altered by the form. The medium is the massage, after all.
    Quote Originally Posted by philip nod View Post
    somebody should kop this. this is forever.

  6. #6
    kitsch killer Faust's Avatar
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    Sep 2006
    Long hard road out of hell


    On the one hand, we (in America) are taught to think that free markets are king, so here is your answer - don't complain that you are undercut in terms of price - free market.

    On the other hand, there is no such thing as a free market in real life - it's been concocted by capitalists in order to reap the greatest possible profits. So, now the intangibles come in - having a cute little book, clothing, whatnot shop in your neighborhood, which gives it character and pleasantness. You know who understands this well? Gentrifiers. And thank God for them. Say what you will about hipsters and the stroller mafia, but at least these people understand the value of a local store and don't mind paying a little extra to keep it in business. Those who care only about themselves will definitely end up in a wasteland of a neighborhood. (Not that I will be crying for the disappearing American malls - good riddance. What the fuck is the author smoking by saying "gutted malls and downtowns"? The downtowns have long ago been gutted by the malls). But it's those who tend to be a little more intelligent and can look past the "fuck everyone else," because "everyone else" is also your neighbor, so if you don't to end up living in a faceless barren "neighborhood," support your local store.

    Now, I am guilty as charged. I buy books on Amazon because of price and convenience. But if I had a little neighborhood book store, I'd buy there at least time to time. (I try to pay back my dues by holding as many meetings at McNally Jackson as possible. God knows I've spent more money on their cappuccinos than it'd cost me to by an espresso maker ). Sometimes it's too late. St. Marks Bookshop almost went out of business - and that's an iconic store.

    Now on to clothing. Showrooming definitely happens. And it sucks, but, I hate to say this, if you don't have a huge amount of money to spend, several hundred dollars in price difference is palpable. It is the new world, for better or worse. But I'd hate to be the store owner and see this happen in my own store. Just put yourself in their shoes.

    What's even worse, and I will not name names, although maybe I should, I know of at least one fucking idiot member of our beloved forums who adds insult to injury to NYC retailers by showrooming and then asking the stores to match the price he found in stores abroad.

    Now you'd expect someone to have more tact than that, but see the first sentence of this post.

    AKA, what do you think about the article?
    Fashion is a form of ugliness so intolerable that we have to alter it every six months - Oscar Wilde

    StyleZeitgeist Magazine

  7. #7
    Senior Member MikeN's Avatar
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    Nov 2007
    New York City


    Surprised that that one Amazon promotion wasn't mentioned... when you went into a B&M store, and scanned the bar code of an item with the Amazon iPhone app, you then got a 5 or 10% discount off the item if you bought it on Amazon. That's ice cold.

  8. #8


    Working at an independent design bookstore, I definitely feel the sting from amazon. As Mike mentions, its simply impossible to compete.

  9. #9


    Quote Originally Posted by Faust View Post
    AKA, what do you think about the article?
    i find the article fascinating inasmuch as it clearly identifies and gives a fitting name to this emerging mode of customer behavior. i feel "showrooming" can range from the inadvertent - which is hardly an offense and should not be regarded as an affront to the establishment - to the premeditated - in which case it is both disrespectful and in bad taste. i imagine designers realize the importance of physical stores and hope they do whatever is needed to insure that they can continue to compete with the e-tailers.
    LOVE THE SHIRST... HOW much?

  10. #10


    Very good point about the small town community aspect of stores, E. That hadn't occurred to me at first. There's nothing quite like walking into even a Starbucks with a regular staff that knows your name and can ask you sincerely how/what you're doing lately.
    Quote Originally Posted by philip nod View Post
    somebody should kop this. this is forever.

  11. #11


    Quote Originally Posted by BeauIXI View Post
    Very good point about the small town community aspect of stores, E. That hadn't occurred to me at first. There's nothing quite like walking into even a Starbucks with a regular staff that knows your name and can ask you sincerely how/what you're doing lately.
    i think Starbucks being referred to as a local store is exactly what people are not talking about in respect to this thread, starbucks kills all the non-chain coffee shops, they are just as bad as the idea of "show-rooming"

  12. #12


    Starbucks is often seen as a buzzkill over in Europe or Australia, but from my observation, it has had the opposite effect in this region. Before the arrival of Starbucks coffee was seen as a boring morning drink. Now that coffee-drinking has become a fashionable activity, individual quaint cafes are popping up at every little corners serving the most exotic, organic coffee from all over the globe.
    Quote Originally Posted by Patroklus View Post
    Better too adventurous than not enough
    everyone should strive towards ballsiness

  13. #13


    No way! I never knew there would be something like that. Thats straight up bastard. Isn't there a law to protect one company from leeching off another?

    Quote Originally Posted by MikeNouveau View Post
    Surprised that that one Amazon promotion wasn't mentioned... when you went into a B&M store, and scanned the bar code of an item with the Amazon iPhone app, you then got a 5 or 10% discount off the item if you bought it on Amazon. That's ice cold.

  14. #14


    Being a stylist for years and always shopping with insanely low budgets only drove me to find the best deals for the lowest price possible. We called it sourcing. I think what it really boils down to is face to face stellar customer service. I can't express how important this is.

    There have been numerous times when I've stepped into a boutique, found an article of clothing that I've needed for a shoot or personally, and full on knew that I could get it cheaper either online or through a "friend of a friend" and still bought the piece in the store due to the tack sharp attention to detail of the salesperson.

    On the other hand, if I walk into a boutique and the salesperson is too cool for school, drinking their kombucha while texting on two phones and doesn't even make eye contact with me, or even acknowledge me, I will "show room" the fuck out of you and I'll sang all those RN numbers faster than you can say "mrporter"

    As consumers and retailers we need to be mindful of this!

  15. #15


    Its understood that if your store is going to be located in the middle of soho, the price mark ups are obviously going to be a lot higher than that of an online retailer due to overheads. There is no way around that. I guess it's important to know your core customers as I have spent some years in retail and ive met plenty of people Who are willing to spent the extra dollar just because they enjoy the ambience of the store ie the knowledgable and approachable staff, the instore service, the branding, so on and so forth......

  16. #16


    Bringing this into the context of the designers and labels discussed on SZ, one might ask- how many labels that one finds in brick and mortar boutiques are also offered by online only retailers?

    I, personally, haven't come across any e-retailers stocking the designers we discuss and as far as I recollect there are designers that even prohibit their garments from being sold online (there probably are several other reasons behind that though). Hell, there are some designers that aren't even stocked in more than a handful brick and mortar shops around the world, let alone in an online only retailer.

    Moreover, in the case of one of our affiliate boutiques (INK - Hong Kong), which could undercut other retailers since Hong Kong has no import taxes, they don't accept orders for certain designers from certain countries.. which makes it possible for the European boutiques to survive.

    It's also not uncommon for boutiques to come out with exclusive lines with certain designers, something that would take a potential e-retailer further out of the equation.

    I think for a niche market such as artisanal mens fashion "showrooming" shouldn't be as big a threat as in other mass markets. Boutiques, many of them bolstered by a strong relationship with the designers they showcase (Darklands with Boris to name just one..), should in my opinion have enough ammunition to fend off any threat from future e-retailers.

  17. #17


    Quote Originally Posted by tenorish View Post
    I, personally, haven't come across any e-retailers stocking the designers we discuss
    What? The only designer I can think of who is not sold online is Harnden.
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  18. #18
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    Quote Originally Posted by drizzly View Post
    t for example apple, no one will find a better deal online on brand new apple products because they control their manufacturing and retail output and price,
    it's illegal for a manufacturer to control/dictate prices. once upon a time the US had FAIR TRADE LAWS which allowed minimum pricing guidelines. they were repealed. the only thing a manufacturer is allowed to do is to control their distribution and set up a marketing model. they can pick WHO they sell. But choosing your retail outlets doesn't guarantee pricing. ie. a store you've sold in the past decides that they will now discount your products. You must continue to sell them because you sold them before.
    of course. there are ways to circumvent this. non or late delivery of products etc.

    now, all this comes from my dated experience. if there's anyone more recently informed,please correct me.

  19. #19


    Quote Originally Posted by michael_kard View Post
    What? The only designer I can think of who is not sold online is Harnden.
    he means online only. which is a good point. for some products, like high end fashunz, the combo of brick and mortar + website + good service is the winning formula. this problem is more relevant in other markets, like electronics, entertainment media, tools, stuff like that.

    but i think the answer to the original question, "will showrooming kill businesses?" is yes, yes it will.
    dying and coming back gives you considerable perspective

  20. #20


    its definitely a problem in the market relevant to sz. but i think the larger issue of online retailers vs. brick and mortar has greater implications that could be more influential on the economy as a whole and the overall retail landscape in other markets.
    dying and coming back gives you considerable perspective

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