Would "Just Looking" Fees Be Effective Against "Showrooming"?

A few months ago I wrote a post about "showrooming", the practice of some shoppers that entails visiting physical retailers to see a product with the intent of then buying it online.  You can read it again at this link.  In that post I described the efforts that Toys 'R' Us was making to counter "showrooming" and I listed a few ideas of my own that would benefit retailers that feel endangered by that practice. 

Today I read that an Australian retailer started charging a $5 "just looking" fee starting in February to all shoppers upon entering the store.  That fee is then deducted from the price of any item that the customer ends up buying. 

Similarly, a Vera Wang boutique in China started charging shoppers close to $500 just to try its gowns.  The practice lasted only briefly and it was cancelled, amid the shoppers' outcry.  Could "just looking" fees be effective against "showrooming"?

It is conceivable that the fees would indeed drastically reduce "showrooming" in the stores that adopt them.  Most shoppers would not want to incur any fee, unless they had a reasonable intention to place an in-store purchase. 

Nevertheless, it is also likely that traffic in those stores would suffer.  Only determined customers, who are also certain that the store carries their desired item, would visit the store.  Additionally, stores that stock any item that is not a popular consumer product would most likely encounter adverse effects on their bottom line.  In fact, charging a fee and depressing traffic would not only impact shoppers intent on "showrooming", but also shoppers that could be converted into buyers. 

It is important to note that a study by the mobile marketing firm Vibes found that "just 6% of shoppers overall are likely to do what we think of as pure showrooming, in which they check out an item in person in a store before purchasing it from a competitor".  I would argue that an innovative and remarkable retailer could stand a chance of converting into customers even a number of these "showrooming" customers.

However, they would need to offer an in-store experience that provides compelling and higher value than online retailers.  Here are the suggestions that I have mentioned in a previous post:
  • Create a multi-channel strategy that allows customers to buy items at any time through multiple channels.  The Vibes survey mentioned above also reports that almost 30% of "showrooming" customers ultimately purchase from the physical retailer's website.  Retailers should integrate their stores with their online operations, allowing customers to purchase in-store, online and via their mobile devices. Tourneau is a great example, as I have noted in a previous post (Tourneau Delivers Luxurious Experience with Multi-Channel Strategy).
  • Enhance the in-store shopping experience, increasing sale staff, stressing the importance of customer service, organizing specific monthly activities and events, and allowing store managers to modify the regular in-store experience to cater it to specific customers. LEGO's "Esperience Wheel" would be a useful tool (LEGO's Experience Wheel Reveals the 'Wow" Factor).
  • Offer price-matching and train in-store staff to approach customers intent on "showrooming" to relay that information and help them with any other doubt or concern.
Let me know your ideas on "showrooming" and your suggestions to retailers on the comment box below.

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