What Not To Do In Response to “M-Commerce”

We’ve written about M-Commerce here before — that phone and mobile device-driven way consumers have of shopping and buying items “right now,” even if they’re standing in a rival vendor’s store.

Sometimes this happens with the newfangled habit of “showrooming.” We’ve written about it here before, and as a merchant with customers, you should keep the phrase on your radar.  “Showrooming” refers to the practice of customers entering a store, looking at items “live,” as it were (which is to say, displayed on your shelves — if you’re one of those with an offline location that has shelves), then checking their phones quickly to see if they can get it for a better price — once your own showroom display has actually helped make the sale.

A store in Australia, to draw its own particular line in the sand against this practice, decided to charge customers $5 a pop for coming in the store and just looking around. If you bought something from them, your five bucks — Australian — would be refunded.

But if you showroomed — well, at least the store has that five-spot for helping you shop!

The store’s policy might have languished in obscurity — just as its sales might have, if they were charging merely to step in the door — except that a photo of the sign was posted on Reddit, and went viral.

This sparked several rounds of online discussion about “showrooming,” buying local vs. online, etc., — over the last few days — so we decided it was worthy of a spring blog post here, to serve as a cautionary tale,  if nothing else.

The store’s sign notes “there has been high volume of people who use this store as a reference and then purchase goods elsewhere. These people are unaware our prices are almost the same as the other stores plus we have products simply not available anywhere else.”

And yet, as a Yahoo! Finance article on the store’s “admission price” notes, the policy “‘has to be the most misguided strategy we’ve seen for dealing with showrooming,’ (according to) Matt Brownell at Daily Finance. ‘The goal of any retailer should be to impress customers with competitive pricing and great customer service — not treat their customers with suspicion and hostility from the moment they walk in the door.'”

What could this merchant have done differently before inadvertently buying themselves so much bad publicity for a five-buck cover charge?

There are numerous possibilities  — like treating customers  with a little kindness, making sure your prices really are that competitive (at which point, they will presumably speak for themselves), or even inviting showrooming! That’s right! Does your business have a URL?  Post that in the store, encourage customers to check out your website at the same time they’re standing there “live,” and let them know that you’ll meet them to get their business wherever they like to shop, and however they like their items delivered.

Which means you can check through the list we always encourage you to go through here: Are you up-to-date on all your payment options? Are you as ready to accept debit or gift cards (or to offer gift cards!) as you are to accept online checks?

Are you willing to offer rewards to loyal customers? Price-match? Have you checked out all your on-the-spot processing options if you’re selling “in the field,” at a trade show, convention, or in the park on a balmy summer day?

You can use the practice of “showrooming” to “show off” your customer service instead — instead of driving them to use their mobile phones to post regrettable signs on the internet, in virtual “showrooms” everywhere.

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