retail | November 25, 2012

Douglas Stephens: Customer Service Can Counteract "Showrooming"

"We live in a very, very hyper-connected world," retail speaker Douglas Stephens explains. "The consumer has as much computing power at the end of their fingertips right now than we did in the first space shuttle." What is the biggest change that this access to technology has brought to the retail sector? The founder of Retail Prophet tells CBC Radio that more and more consumers are now relying on "brick and mortar" retail stores to test-drive products before they turn to an online retailer to make their purchase. This trend is referred to as "showrooming." It is a shopping practice where the customer goes to a store to physically examine a product while they seek out additional information, reviews, and better prices for it online. Sometimes, this even leads to the shopper buying the product from an online store while they are physically in another store.

"Consumers have at their fingertips now probably more pricing analytics data than the retailers do," Stephens says. "It's quite powerful." Major electronic purchases, video game consoles and other expensive items are the most likely products to be showroomed by customers, he says, because consumers can really stand to gain if they shop around. However, he also notes that customers aren't always weighing their options online to save money—sometimes they just want more information about the product, or are looking for customer reviews. "The message to retailers is that you really have to be better servicing customers [because] this isn't just a matter of having the cheapest price," Stephens advises. While people do like to get good deals and save money, they are also looking for a good customer experience in the store, where they feel like they are given all the information they require before making a purchase. Something that Stephens says a lot of retailers aren't doing, and something that is leading them to lose sales to online sources that do.

The solution, he says, isn't to try and restrict the customer's ability to seek out information online (as many retailers have attempted to do). Rather, retailers must realize that they can't control what information people seek, but they can control what is happening in their physical stores. "Store retailers really need to make sure they're either offering exclusive products or they're giving consumers one-of-a-kind experiences," Stephens suggests. It's insights like these that have made Stephens a go-to source for Air Miles, Home Depot, and Disney. At Retail Prophet, and in his keynote speeches, he explains the current trends in the retail sector and predicts what will happen in the future. An expert on retail business strategy, Stephens helps companies think beyond the horizon and stay one step ahead of their competitors—no matter what the industry.