Online shopping has transformed the purchasing habits of an entire generation of consumers. For brick-and-mortar retail businesses, even those with e-commerce systems offering web sales in parallel with their physical storefronts, the proliferation of mobile devices and easily accessible web shopping platforms has created a significant challenge. Perhaps you have encountered it: an interested customer walks into your store, gets the information and firsthand look at the product they want, then whips out a smartphone to make a purchase at Amazon instead of doing so at your kiosk.
This side-slipping maneuver has been termed “showrooming” – its effects, widely documented by big-box retailers like Best Buy who must continually compete for the attention of the deal-savvy online consumer, are increasingly relevant to the bottom line of small businesses as well. However, small businesses are uniquely positioned to combat the “showrooming” effect – read on to find out how you can keep customers keen to interact with your business directly.

Create Customer Engagement

The biggest thing that differentiates your small business from an online retailer is the personalized touch you bring to the customer experience. Do not discount the value of human-to-human interaction as a motivator for getting customers interested and retaining their patronage in the future. Your small business stands to gain immensely from letting its personality show through – both in the day-to-day service and great attitude you show your customers, and by way of the creation of specialized incentives that online retailers cannot match. The latter category includes things like loyalty programs, in-store seminars and events or unique product features, or even distribution of an informative and personalized newsletter or blog that will advise and educate your customers with unexpected and valuable content.

Connect With Your Online Presence

Online resource channels need not be dominated by those sites that would act as competitors to your small business in the event of “showrooming.” Take advantage of the many online resources that can be used to promote and create incentive – especially those that are accessible through mobile devices. These include an informative and easy-to-read website, all forms of social media, image sharing, location-based incentive apps like Foursquare, etc. – develop and continually tell your business’ “story” online to create a showroom of your own. This allows customers to do many of the things they might do when shopping through a larger online retailer. The ability to be alerted to stock changes or new arrivals as they happen, or being able to “preview” items, getting access to reviews, comments or ratings from other customers – even if they cannot purchase items online, these options will empower your online visitors’ decision-making processes.

Highlight Important Conveniences

No matter how much research a buyer conducts, there’s no substitute for seeing an item firsthand – trying it out, making sure it will fit your needs, understanding exactly the colour or the shape of it. And if the decision doesn’t quite work out… anyone who has shopped online knows the difficulties that come with certain key operations like returns, exchanges, shipping calculations, import duties and so forth. This is especially true for Canadian shoppers whose widest purchase options and stock availability may only be available overseas. If someone is inclined to “showroom” for a product, position your small business as a convenient alternative that eliminates hassles like the ones mentioned. There is much to be said for the instantaneous convenience of pay-and-carry shopping over online models.

Be An Expert

As a customer, it can be hugely rewarding to talk shop with someone who has strong product knowledge (the kind that’s smarter and more interesting than that which any internet description could provide.) I love my local bike shop because of this: I recently needed a part repaired that simply couldn’t be found online, and so I drove down to pick the mechanic’s brain about it. After a short discussion he not only recommended that an attempted repair might not solve the issue, but also found a way to source just the right part for a replacement – which saved me the cost of labour, too. He was careful to ensure that what he ordered had exactly the right compatibility with my existing bike, and made me feel very secure in knowing how to prevent the same damage from happening again. In short, he’s an expert, and his value to me goes beyond the items he stocks. Being an expert and showing the depth of your understanding create important reasons for your customers to turn to you instead of heading online.