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6 showroomMy buddy Buzz posted links recently to a couple articles on the topic of ‘showrooming’. It’s a term describing the relatively new practice by consumers of using a physical retail establishment and  resources to research a purchase later made on a website or through a mobile device. Retailers don’t like this behavior, but in an omnichannel retail world it’s inevitable to some extent. What I’m struggling with is whether it’s right or ethical for the consumer to engage in this practice.
I have 3 examples of my own behavior I’ve thought about since viewing Buzz’s articles.
  • I needed to buy a new tennis racket. I researched online, found one I liked, and went to the local big-box sporting goods store to pull one off the shelf to check its weight. I went home and bought it on-line. 
  • We needed a new table for our kitchen area. We visited a small local furniture place, talked to the clerk, realized they would need to special order it, and checked pricing. We left and ordered it on-line directly from the same manufacturer they would’ve ordered it from, but we had to drive to the next state to pick it up.
  • In replacing a chandelier, we stopped by a small local lighting shop. They had limited inventory but we borrowed their ‘books’ and identified a lamp we liked. We returned home to do some measuring, but now need to decide whether to order it on-line (where it’s in stock and available) or return to the store to place the order.
I don’t think there’s a problem with the first example. I didn’t talk to anyone, didn’t waste anybody’s time, and was just checking a physical characteristic of the product. On the second, I viewed the retail furniture shop as selling a distribution point to me- I’d pick the product up there rather than driving 100 miles to get it at the factory. We didn’t use their furniture expertise as such, since we already knew what we wanted and just needed to see if they had stock on hand. On the third example, we’ll probably order from the store since the price differential is small and we may need their help on some future work. I wouldn’t feel badly about ordering it on-line, but from a relationship standpoint it’d be better to use the store.
I guess every reader, and every retailer, has their own story about this type of thing. In this always-connected environment, the consumer is truly in the driver’s seat. But where do you draw the line? If I was a retailer struggling to get by, I’d hate to think I was being treated by people in my store as an Amazon.com showroom. What’s your story? Have you ‘showroomed’? Did you think it was right?   
Last modified on Tuesday, 07 August 2012
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