Rant: The problem with showrooming? You, the retailer.

Inner West retailers, like their peers throughout Australia and the rest of the world, are struggling to work out what to do about this burgeoning online thing. Frankly, online retail offers better range, lower prices, and in many cases better service and delivery options.

Increasingly, customers come to your store and look at products, try them on, ask questions, then go online and buy it for half the price. Or worse, they don’t even come to your store at all. It’s not their fault, it’s yours. If you’re a retailer and you’re not scared you should get scared now!

The good news is customers want to buy local. You may have heard of the term SoLoMo, it’s a hot term that’s been thrown around a bit in recent years and refers to the intersection of Social Local Mobile. SoLoMo is an articulation of the problem of customers wanting to find local businesses, when and where they are, via the most meaningful tool they have at their disposal (mobile phone + Google search). The result is search engines cataloguing and aligning results with geographic information about the retailer and the customer.

SoLoMo currently falls a bit short of anything meaningful to either party. The silver lining is that you turn this into a huge opportunity by understanding what your customers are really looking for. Don’t think about products to range, think about the customer’s experience online, and borrow the features that can deliver real value in store and add those features.

Consider the following to replicate the online experience:
• Offer different payment options, including Paypal by mobile.
• Consider selling items that are not kept in your store (have them warehoused and shipped from elsewhere).
• Offer more flexible delivery options. Not everyone wants to take the items with them then and there.
• If you have a website, allow customers to explore products before they come to the store, then extend that experience when they arrive. Address them by name.
• Use social media to create a more meaningful experience. Interact with them, and even use it to understand them in order to make more useful product suggestions.

The key to retail success is not by competing with online; it’s not an either/or question but by the combination of offline and online in order to deliver value to the customer.

So what is value?

Value is about helping the customer find that special item they’ve been looking for, by understanding them better than other retailers. Value is about removing the friction of paying, the limitations of delivery and making the decision-making process easier. Value is making the transition between offline and online invisible.

Remember, customers are going online because you don’t offer them anything of sufficient value.

Words: Mike Biggs, @MetaMikeBiggs, Digital Innovation Consultant at ThoughtWorks