Traditional retailers in the Asia-Pacific region can’t get a break. They’re staring down the perfect storm: an invasion of pure e-commerce players from overseas, national taxation issues, slowing growth rates, and diminishing customer loyalty.
In the midst of this maelstrom, many are struggling with how to merge online and offline channels, digital marketing, and customer engagement.
Retailers know how to run a showroom and display their products in the real world, but customers increasingly want access to the same service online–and herein lies the challenge. Is it possible to transfer the experience of the showroom into a Web environment or deliver that same information to a smartphone?
Showrooming--when shoppers use a mobile device to research a product while in a brick-and-mortar store--has raised the ire of traditional retailers. In some cases, they’ve even taken measures to thwart the practice by removing or hiding bar codes, relabelling products, or, in the case of fashion, charging a fee to try on clothing that is then refunded when the customer makes a purchase.
Webrooming is the next evolutionary step in the way customers interact with the online and brick-and-mortar retail environment. Described as “the new showrooming,” webrooming is essentially the reverse. It’s where customers do their research online before purchasing in a store, at a branch, or in some other offline location.
Although they’re experiencing strong sales growth, e-tailers need to pay attention to this webrooming trend. E-commerce sales in Australia alone have grown by 35 percent in the past three years, but sales do not tell the whole story. Consumers are shopping in digital channels relentlessly, but they are not always buying online.
In Australia, for example, more than two-thirds of customers do their product research online before going into a store to close the deal, research by CCI World Internet Project reveals.
In the United States, webrooming is even more common. According to a 2013 study by Accenture, 78 percent of U.S. shoppers reported webrooming before heading to a traditional brick-and-mortar store to make a purchase. The same study found that 72 percent of those surveyed also showroom.
This behaviour indicates consumers have essentially merged online and offline into a single shopping experience. As such, retailers need to find ways to capture the imagination and interest of consumers, and carry it seamlessly between online and offline environments.
So what are some of the online and offline strategies retailers could think about to to drive maximum benefit from these showrooming and webrooming trends? The best approach is not a question of either/or, but an integrated strategy that combines the online and offline experience.
Retailers in the region are also ramping up “click-and-collect” style offerings, which combine the flexibility of the Web with the immediacy of the brick-and-mortar shopping experience. It includes the ability to buy instantly and pick up without waiting for delivery, satisfiying consumers’ urge for instant gratification, but also introducing customers into stores, creating opportunities for cross-selling.
Retailers can also use digital channels to create anticipation around an in-store event, which, in turn, becomes part of an ongoing customer-engagement campaign.
Bernie Brookes, CEO of Australian department store giant Myer, said stores need to focus on the art of theatre by creating events and experiences that once again turn shopping into fun. He’s right, of course, but such experiences need to be integrated into a larger digital strategy–or the real benefits will be lost.