Is It Time To Start Charging Retail Customers For Browsing And Showrooming?
By Bob Phibbs
I’ve worked in retail for most of my life.
That includes my first job as a janitor, then a regional manager all the way up to corporate VP and now as the Retail Doctor.
Throughout my career I've always heard merchants saying, “They come into my store and get all the information, and then go somewhere else to buy it.”
As a retail consultant, those responses used to infuriate me; it sounded like a losers limp. I felt it was an excuse for them not doing better because they miraculously knew their customers were at a competitor’s.
I always answered, “How do you know that?” They didn’t.
That’s all changed in the last few years…
Consider this story from a business owner who prides herself on custom fit swimwear for women. “We wait on women hand and foot with a process that takes no less than an hour most times and sometimes up to 2.5 hours to find JUST the right suit! Then occasionally there is the ONE customer who comes out with 2 or 3 suits and says, "Ok, I like these but I need to see if I can find them online for cheaper" and proceeds to write down all the numbers on the tags.”
Recently, it's become more immediate...
A sales associate said that when she waits on customers at the fitting rooms, especially young women, at a certain point when everything fits, the dressing room goes silent. That’s because they scan with their smartphones to see if they can find a cheaper price online.
How did she know? They told her. This leaves the employee with mountains of clothes to clean up, and no sale.
It's not just clothing...
What about the luxury retail watch salesperson? The one who could explain all the details of why the watch is worth the premium price. The one who invests her time in hopes of the payoff? Sure you can say the best brands prohibit online purchases which voids their warranty, but a customer may not know that if the store is the first place they check for information.
Or how about anything where a customer needs to make serious choices and the retailer has invested a lot of time to learn the products’ intimate details? Could be anything from noise reducing windows to window coverings. Could be custom bedding to custom flooring. It could be fine wine to fine china.
You get my point.
Contractors got tired of having people ask for a bid only to see their detailed list of materials and time given to have some other competitor low-ball them out of the job. That’s why many require a non-refundable fee to get a bid.
What if a retailer charged a browsing fee or consulting fee in shops where extensive product knowledge is required? Would it make a difference in their retail sales?
What if you called it a non-refundable personal shopper fee that credits towards purchase within two weeks? If they returned the item later, the fee would not be refunded?
The dilemma many retailers are facing is, in an always-on mobile world, there is always someone always ready to undercut you.
And not just down the road but across the country.
Before that seemed isolated. Now it is real. What's the point in opening up the store if you (essentially) give the goods away?
Will there be someone brave enough to charge for browsing?
I'm not certain but one thing is clear, you have to do more to train your crew how to sell the merchandise if you don't want people to see your four walls as a place for showrooming for online retailers.
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