What to do when shop local turns into look local and buy online?

Discussion
Aug 09, 2017
Bob Phibbs

Through a special arrangement, presented here for discussion is a summary of a current article from The Retail Doctor’s Blog.

A recent Facebook LIVE video I conducted with some mom & pops led to many questions around a new trend some call shop local but buy online.

The first asked, “What’s the best way to approach a customer you hear saying to their child, ‘No we are not buying that here…just take a picture…I’m positive you can get it cheaper on Amazon?’”

Another asked, “I would love to have a tactful response to when customers say they will just order something online from elsewhere. I’m always too gobsmacked to respond. I’d like to explain that we aren’t a showroom and that we feed our kids with our business, but I don’t want to sound defensive or whiny.”

Here are some options:

  • Charge a fee. If you carry something that needs to be fitted, charge a fitting fee. Explain that when they buy it, the fee is waived.
  • Put up guilt signs. Many feel if shoppers only realized the consequences for you, they would change their ways. Sadly, these new consumers know exactly what they are doing. Education isn’t the problem.
  • Tell them they’re rude. Frankly, if someone I spent 20 minutes with suddenly whipped out a smartphone, took a picture of the item I’d found for them, and then told me they were going to buy it online — not from me — I’d tell them they were rude and to not come back. Yes, generally the customer is always right, but this isn’t a customer we’re talking about.
  • Call your manufacturers. Buy less from vendors that don’t listen to your complaints about shoppers being able to buy online for prices lower than you can charge at wholesale. Band together with other stores.
  • Home delivery: Offer free shipping or local delivery for awkward or heavy things like dog food that people don’t want to carry home.

I realize there is no one answer for how to handle this, but the only way forward is to make a relationship. Friends don’t take up your time and then snap a picture.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: How should local retailers respond to customers obviously shopping in a store only to purchase online? Are high-service stores more likely to get hurt by showrooming than benefit from webrooming?

Braintrust
"We all know price is only one thing, but becomes the big thing when the store experience is flat. "
"Of all the suggestions here, home delivery is the only one that has legs — very weak ones though. "
"These mom-and-pop stores are trying to hold onto the past and stop the move into the e-commerce revolution that is already here."

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32 Comments on "What to do when shop local turns into look local and buy online?"

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Zel Bianco
BrainTrust

Shoppers have to realize that once the mom-and-pops are gone, they are gone. For those of you that vacation in the Hamptons, take a look at all the chain stores that have over the years replaced all of the more interesting and local flavor that unique local stores bring to our lives. Now East Hampton looks like Soho with the exact same retailers that we can shop in the city. What’s the point? These mom-and-pop stores deserve to be supported and not just to be browsed. We all enjoy good food at so many of the great restaurants that have opened in the area and we are generally happy to pay the crazy prices as we realize they have to make their money in approximately three months. Shouldn’t we do the same thing for stores?

Max Goldberg
BrainTrust

While showrooming is a fact of business, it hits mom-and-pop stores harder than big chains. Educating consumers helps a little, but the best way to beat it is to offer unique merchandise — items that can’t be found online. Secondly, offer a warm, friendly experience — which is also impossible to duplicate online.

James Tenser
BrainTrust

I’d like to amplify your POV just a little, Max. I think the best defense against shoppers who rudely take up the time of indy retailers only to order online is to make it personal. Showrooming will always be a fact of life for some commoditized items, like electronics. But personalized service communicates relationship value. It’s OK to make the customer feel a little bit beholden (in a warm, friendly manner).
When there’s little margin in the item itself, selection, fitting, delivery, installation, configuration, and after-care can be profitable services that reinforce relationships. Local retailers have some advantages in this regard versus vast impersonal chains or online sellers.

Offering unique (especially local) merchandise is certainly an option in some categories, but most stores are not gift shops or art galleries.

Charles Dimov
BrainTrust

Always keep it positive! Taking a negative spin with a customer is only going to frustrate you, the retailer, and will upset the customer — encouraging them not to return and, worse, to express their negative experience on social media.

The best option while a customer is in-store is to push on the instant gratification element and the fact that you offer no-hassle in-store returns. If you found the product a customer wants, in the size they need, there is a big preference for having it NOW. That’s the advantage of the store.

Remember that webrooming (researching the product online before buying in-store) happens more frequently than showrooming. Use this to your advantage. Specifically if you are a mid- or large-sized retailer — get into omnichannel retailing, which gets shoppers to buy online (right then and there) giving them the option to pick up in-store and have it immediately.

Bob Phibbs
BrainTrust

Except that’s not what is happening. They are using the local store to buy from Amazon in particular — not their own website.

Charles Dimov
BrainTrust

What the retailer needs to do is 1) have their own online presence (about 85%-90% of the retail world is already there), 2) encourage the shopper to check out more deals on YOUR ecommerce site (salvage the sale, if you can), 3) emphasize that you would very much like their business (sometimes that’s what it takes), and 4) leverage Amazon as a marketplace. A good Order Management System will connect in to marketplaces like Amazon, eBay … (see OrderDynamics if yours does not). Then at the very least, make sure your products are popping up there.

Aside from some morale suasion practices (let them know they showroomed at your location, you helped them…), you can make sure you are popping up again where they are intending to shop. You simply cannot force their hand here. Do everything you can to bring it back to your brand, and keep it positive.

Mark Ryski
BrainTrust

This is a challenging problem for many retailers, and while there are no easy answers, guilt and/or confrontation won’t be very helpful. I do think retailers can close more showrooming prospects by personalizing their interaction. By reminding the prospect of the history of the store and thanking them for visiting the store. By being extremely knowledgable about the product and alternatives that the prospect might see online before they even look it up. And lastly, good old-fashioned selling — ask for the sale. Emphasizing that they can take the purchase home immediately and perhaps even offering further discounts on complementary products. You won’t win them all, but a knowledgeable and engaged sales associate can go a long way to converting showrooming prospects.

Bob Phibbs
BrainTrust

Except they are using the very tool — extreme knowledge and sales techniques — then snapping a photo to buy from someone else perceived as easier or cheaper. These are not clerks we are talking about but real professionals.

Kevin Graff
BrainTrust

Good article, Bob. There’s validity in all your points when put in the context of the situation at hand. The whole buy local movement is valid, but only when the local merchants are actually competitive with the larger retail environment. The local merchants need to step up their game to compete. We all know price is only one thing, but becomes the big thing when the store experience is flat. Maybe these independents need to be a little more critical of their retail concept, store experience, selling skills, merchandising approach and more. If an independent thinks they’re going to compete on price, they’ve lost the game before it’s started.

Bob Phibbs
BrainTrust

I think Kevin we would agree most of them have built their business on selection, knowledge and service. That is being used in a new way. It’s like department stores used to have liberal return policies — think Nordstrom and others. Until many women shared you could simply buy the dress one day, wear it that night and return it the next. Then department stores clamped down on returns. Then they added large tags saying, “This tag must be attached to the garment for any return or exchange.” I think we are at the start of a new consumer working the system.

Phil Chang
BrainTrust
Find a value equation that makes it irresistible to buy while in-store. Create a bundle that you cannot buy online. Pair the product with something unique that complements the routine. This satisfies the treasure hunt mentality for the consumer and assures them that they’ve saved some money and gotten an experience. List products that are unique that are difficult to find online. While this takes time to curate, you’ll be happier you did it. The big online guy doesn’t carry everything. There are so many boutique brands that you would benefit from a relationship with. Focus on the relationship with the customer. Local stores will be the first to tell you that knowing their customer beats the online shop everyday because the connection between consumer and merchant makes a relationship. Find convenience moments that remove the last bits of showrooming in the most hardcore online buyers. Make it convenient for them to be in your store — physically or virtually. Offer them the ability to complete their sale any way they like. In person, on… Read more »
Al McClain
Staff

Keep it positive. As Max says, make it about the great service and the experience. Free shipping and/or delivery is a great idea. Price matching can be done on a case by case basis. And, a few signs around the store saying “Thank you for shopping locally!” wouldn’t hurt either.

Bob Phibbs
BrainTrust

Except I think you’re missing the point. It IS all about the great service and the experience. They aren’t asking for price match — they are simply getting every question answered, snapping or scanning in front of the salesperson and leaving. Most commentators don’t seem to get the core problem isn’t the local’s ability to sell or create a great experience — it is about being used and giving someone else the sale.

Art Suriano
BrainTrust

The customer isn’t always right, but it’s always risky when we tell them. One disgruntled customer can do so much damage today, especially on social media, so I’m not in favor of some of the suggestions. However the best solution is proper engagement. Sometimes sales associates are too eager to point out product features and benefits without properly qualifying the customer. There are times when a shopper is being courteous but may be interested in something else and not let the store associate know. I also prefer an honest approach. If after spending 20 minutes with a sales associate the customer takes out their camera to take a picture, the sale associate should feel confident asking why. If the shopper says they want to shop online, the store should be prepared to assist the customer at a terminal looking at competitors’ prices and, if need be, to match the price.

In essence, do whatever you can because the advantage you have is the customer in your store. Once the customer leaves, that power is gone.

Ken Lonyai
BrainTrust

Of all the suggestions here, home delivery is the only one that has legs — very weak ones though. Free delivery is commonplace online except (usually) for very small orders or bulky/heavy items, so even that won’t have much impact.

The reality is that mom-and-pops can no longer sustain a business selling commodity items.

For local businesses to have a future they must minimize commodities that are subject to price competition. Service and the human touch will resonate with some shoppers, but as Bob heard, not with a growing cadre of shop local, buy online consumers. Righteousness and morals are easy for shoppers when it doesn’t impact them, but when it affects their wallet or inconveniences them, principals are easily forgotten.

Bob Phibbs
BrainTrust

Exactly Ken and why it is such a multi-level problem that doesn’t conform to easy answers. If mom and pops can’t sell commodity items – then what happens to the vendors and those who subscibe to this site making a living due to physical retail?

Meaghan Brophy
BrainTrust

Unfortunately there is no one-size-fits-all answer. As the article notes, different customers respond to different things. For some, a gentle reminder in the form of a sign that shopping local means supporting local families may be enough. For customers who are most concerned about price, offer price matching if your margins can handle it. Another way to combat showrooming as a local retailer is to source locally. If your products are purchased from local makers and manufacturers it’s easier to form exclusive partnerships and make sure your products aren’t appearing anywhere else at a lower price. We never want to tell a potential customer they are being rude — that will never end well. As others said, keep it positive. But also be flexible.

Kai Clarke
BrainTrust

These mom-and-pop stores are trying to hold onto the past and stop the move into the e-commerce revolution that is already here. These stores need to embrace the revolution and list their products online (like on Amazon or Walmart.com), as well as having product in their store to get a larger share of eyeballs. Their greatest asset is that they have the product in their store right now. Charging fitting fees, guilt signs, etc. are not solutions but simply customer-losing propositions.

Bob Phibbs
BrainTrust

This has nothing to do with them having their products online. And with 55 percent of search starting on Amazon, even if they do have a website it can’t compete with Amazon. They have the product in their stores already — this is not the problem.

Dave Bruno
BrainTrust

There are no quick fixes or easy answers to these challenges, but I strongly believe that there are two keys to overcoming these look local but buy online shoppers: assortments and experiences. Developing carefully curated assortments that minimize commodities is step one. Local retailers who fill their stores with boutique assortments that reflect the nuanced tastes and preferences of their local clientele will better differentiate from their online competitors. Secondly, local shops must look for ways to make their stores an indispensable part of the buying journey. A local garden shop in my neighborhood seems to have figured this out, and they are positively thriving. Read their fascinating — and educational — story here.

Bob Phibbs
BrainTrust

Great example Dave, and I doubt they’re snapping pics of worm tea to find online. 🙂

Dave Bruno
BrainTrust

Ha! Likely not, Bob! And — spoiler alert! — my worm-tea nourished tomatoes this year are the absolute best tasting and most bountiful they have ever been. I am certain I have become their biggest evangelist!

Ricardo Belmar
BrainTrust
This is definitely a challenge for local mom-and-pop retailers. I do believe you have to make a positive statement or you will ultimately lose the customer. Yes, you could have some well-placed signs reminding people to buy local and why. That may sway some shoppers, but not all. The in-store experience and product assortment are absolutely key. In this case, it sounds like Bob is telling us these retailers have figured out how to deliver a great experience, but after spending considerable time with a customer they still snap a photo and leave without a sale. Some amount of price matching will be necessary — there’s no avoiding that. Price isn’t everything to everyone, though, so there has to be something unique about the experience or the product to make someone want to buy it NOW. IF the strategy is to just sell products available in big chains, then that feels like a losing strategy long-term. There has to be something unique. Each year my family vacations in the White Mountains region and we do… Read more »
Harley Feldman
BrainTrust
I don’t think the negative methods described in the article will work. Consumers don’t respond well to negative comments, and they are more likely never to go back to that store. There are more positive approaches to retaining the consumer and gaining the sale before the consumer buys online. One approach is to stock unique items that cannot be purchased online. The second is to provide the knowledge experience that the shopper will not get online. Many categories of items require fit, knowledge of materials, technology or other attributes that are difficult to deliver over the Internet and not in person. Third, the item is available instantly from the store as opposed to waiting for delivery in one or two days. And the store can provide an entertaining experience instead of being isolated with an online sale on a device. If the customer still decides to buy online, there is little the store can do. The customer will respect the effort put in by the retailer and will likely come back again, the next time… Read more »
Doug Garnett
BrainTrust
I think we have to be careful here. Before Amazon, there were a lot of reasons people would look at something then not buy it in the store. That’s human and there’s a clear portion that attempting to fight it will offend shoppers. What’s also not figured into this discussion are the number of shoppers in these stores who checked it out online before coming into the store to pick it up — they won’t make it evident that’s what they did. And estimates are that there are far more of these than we know. All that said, every retailer’s strength must be making themselves a place people want to shop. Do that well, and you’ll win in the long run. I noticed a local pet food store in Portland put up an outdoor sign saying “We’re a lot more fun to shop than online.” It’s true. And, despite a small PetSmart outlet within 2 blocks, that store IS fun to shop at and they continue to do tremendous business — it’s where we buy… Read more »
Craig Sundstrom
Guest

I don’t think there’s really an answer to this, and I think all but the most naive realize that. That having been said, I think it’s important to not make the situation worse, although something like “guilt signs” might seem to fall into the “can’t hurt/might help” category, I don’t think that’s true. I know a local merchant that has such signs in their window and — for me at least — the tone of the remarks sets up such a negative aura that it discourages me from even entering the place.

Bob Phibbs
BrainTrust

Totally agree Craig. I found those signs offensive as well. It is a very difficult subject and Pollyanna “have better service” miss the point entirely.

Janet Dorenkott
BrainTrust
4 months 6 days ago
Fees? Signs? Telling them they are rude? No, this wouldn’t be right at all. Mom and Pops need to focus on changing themselves to meet today’s shopping methods, not the other way around. Once upon a time, horses and mules tilled farmer’s soil. Today John Deere & Caterpillar do that. Once we saw newspapers on every door step. Today, most people get their news online. Times change. It costs some their business. Others find opportunity in it. As with every company, they need to keep up with the times and with trends. Fewer people are buying soda these days. Are Coca-Cola and Pepsi going out of business? No. They are refocusing on healthier drinks. Did Kellogg’s go out of business because people aren’t eating their sugary cereals as much anymore? No, they bought healthier brands like Kashi. Mom & Pops can’t fight the internet. Many big box stores are having the same problems. For years I’ve thought companies like Best Buy should reserve space to become a showroom for the products they carry and change… Read more »
Bob Phibbs
BrainTrust

And what exactly is “get creative?” Dick’s Sporting Goods carries something like 65% of their merchandise that could be found from any other competitor. And they are considered a good one. Most stores carry a lot of merchandise that can be bought anywhere else. Simplistic answers aren’t going to help them. And when 85% of retail is mom and pops with only one store location, when they fail so does your community. And your sales tax revenues.

Phil Chang
BrainTrust

This has interesting strategies to it. Maybe mom & pops need to beat Amazon at its own game, and be part of the marketplace. Most consumers don’t understand buy boxes etc., but a mom & pop could essentially be a part of Amazon’s marketplace and appeal to the showrooming cadre by providing the chance to buy on their Amazon marketplace store. This allows the store to be very flexible and offer the option for showroomers to buy from their marketplace or from their bricks and mortar.

Janet Dorenkott
BrainTrust
4 months 5 days ago

Dick’s got “creative” with their “Score Card.” One of our local candy stores got creative by doing factory tours and letting people make their own candy. Cold Stone ice cream got creative by letting customers create their own ice cream combination. Creativity is self explanatory. It will vary from shop to shop. My small consulting company got creative by developing our own BI tool when companies like Accenture entered our space. It’s all about creativity. Businesses fail if they can’t keep up. They succeed by offering something others don’t offer. They don’t succeed by begging customers to buy from them.

Jett McCandless
BrainTrust

I would certainly suggest a more tactful approach to appealing to their sympathies. Telling them they’re rude, or charging fees for fittings will ensure that customers won’t return. You’ve already got them in the door, that’s one of the hardest parts of brick-and-mortar retail, don’t undo it.

You have to be able to compete with Amazon in price, and if you simply cannot, you have to give them a unique experience. If people like you, they’ll like your store and they’ll want to support it. Go every extra mile that you can for your customers.

wpDiscuz
Braintrust
"We all know price is only one thing, but becomes the big thing when the store experience is flat. "
"Of all the suggestions here, home delivery is the only one that has legs — very weak ones though. "
"These mom-and-pop stores are trying to hold onto the past and stop the move into the e-commerce revolution that is already here."

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