Consumers have spoken: 2016 is the year of “webrooming”

Worried about showrooming? Don’t be! Columnist Sara Spivey says the opposite — consumers researching online before heading offline to shop — is taking off, and retailers need to take advantage of the trend.


It’s no secret that shopping in the last decade has been an evolving journey between in-store and online environments. And as consumers’ interest in online grows, retailers are becoming increasingly concerned about the effect that showrooming — the newly adopted shopping behavior where consumers research items in-store and then purchase a cheaper alternative online — is having on their brick-and-mortar business.

Combine this with the increasing presence and use of consumer-generated content (CGC) — digital content that people create about a product or service they have experienced, used, purchased or considered — during the purchase journey, and the ongoing discussion about the death of the physical store makes more sense.

Recent studies, however, have found the opposite to be true, as “webrooming” — the act of researching online, buying offline (also known as “ROBO” or “reverse showrooming”) — remains the shopping preference of many. In fact, over 90 percent of global purchases are happening offline, and CBRE reports that more than half (55 percent) of the world’s retailers plan to open at least 11 new stores this year.

More promising is the fact that previously online-only retailers like ModCloth, Warby Parker and Rent the Runway have expanded operations in the past year to include brick-and-mortar locations. In some instances, like that of Warby Parker, the dozens of brick-and-mortar locations have become as integral to the business as their initial online presence.

According to research conducted by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), the top three benefits consumers find shopping in-store are those that cannot be experienced online:

  • “I’m able to see, touch, and try merchandise.”
  • “I can get the product immediately.”
  • “I’m more certain about fit/suitability of the product.”

Retailers reimagine the in-store experience

It’s clear that the desire to go in-store still exists, so to further encourage shoppers’ visits, several retailers are creating unique in-store experiences that are impossible to replicate in an online environment.

Athletic retailers like Lululemon and Nike have turned their stores into studios, offering free fitness classes to their in-store clientele. Millennial brand Urban Outfitters added bars and restaurants into a number of stores to give their younger consumers an opportunity to connect with the brand in non-traditional ways and encourage additional avenues for engagement and customer loyalty.

For many, the immediate access to product recommendations from like-minded peers was an especially appealing draw towards online shopping, but that same content can be equally valuable in the store aisle. In fact, a 2014 Harris poll found that 69 percent of people were engaging in reverse showrooming.

In the case of DSLR cameras, Bazaarvoice research found that for every $1 online influenced by review content, reviews influence another $5.21 of in-store revenue. And when looking at appliances, men’s apparel, and automotive products, webrooming becomes even more popular, with 58 percent, 49 percent and 40 percent of consumers respectively researching the products online before buying in-store.

By making that same authentic content available offline and giving consumers the opportunity to take both discovery and conversion directly into the aisle, brands and retailers are better positioning themselves to reverse the previously feared buying behavior into one that benefits both brand and customer.

Despite an online-heavy world, it’s clear there is a big opportunity to draw more online shoppers back to the store by offering the thing they find most valuable online: engaging, authentic and fresh content collected from shoppers just like them.

The power of reverse showrooming

The popularization of reverse showrooming has led consumers to expect a seamless transition between online and offline, and a handful of well-respected brands are already making the necessary advancements to meet that need. Designer Rebecca Minkoff introduced “magic mirrors” in her stores this past year, which allow shoppers to change the lighting in the dressing room to imagine different scenarios as well as make online purchases directly from the mirror by simply selecting the appropriate item size and color.

Makeup brand Sephora earlier this year launched a digital app that allows customers to upload a photo and experiment with different products on their own photo before investing in the purchase. And don’t forget Apple, one of the founders of the seamless in-store experience. By implementing technology directly in-store and arming their sales team with iPads, Apple wrote the book on how to create a brick-and-mortar experience that encouraged consumers to feel empowered enough to make a confident buying decision on the spot.

A recent Google study found that 82 percent of shoppers say they consult their phones about a purchase they’re about to make in-store. That’s nothing to turn your nose up at. And retail innovators — the Rebecca Minkoffs, Sephoras and Apples of the world — recognize reverse showrooming’s staying power.

Other brands and retailers should look to their success stories and arm their consumers with all the tools needed to buy. Though the toolbox may have changed, the physical store remains a primary consumer touch point.

And with those changing tools comes a shift in expectations — if consumers feel that they are not being provided a seamless omnichannel experience or are not given the most relevant and authentic product information, they are likely to take their business to another retailer, especially if they see a substantial discount during their in-store online research.

As you continue developing your retail strategy for 2016 and beyond, take the time to think through how webrooming is impacting your business. Identify opportunities to tap into CGC and pinpoint all the areas where you can bridge the gap between your consumers’ online and offline environments in a more seamless way.

Without change, you run the risk of losing your most important ally — your customer — to more innovative brands and retailers.

Some opinions expressed in this article may be those of a guest author and not necessarily Marketing Land. Staff authors are listed here.


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