At Vision Smarts, not only do we make barcode scanners and comparison shopping apps but we also license barcode scanner SDKs to retailers worldwide.

So with all the recent articles about showrooming, we can see a little of both sides of the issue.

I should state right away that I believe “showrooming” to be a sensationalist term that frames the debate in a negative way. It implies that:
1. Smartphone-wielding shoppers come to a store with no intention of buying anything.
2. Stores are nothing more than spaces where stuff is put on display.

1. is simply not true for most shoppers, and 2. does not have to be.

The informed shopper

People are mostly looking for a good deal and for convenience. A good deal is not just getting the lowest price, but finding the product that best meets one’s needs at a fair price. Careful shoppers used to do their online research at home, now they use their smartphone, that’s why they are carrying one and paying those data charges. Price is an important factor, but there are other equally important ones. Price does not have to be the absolute lowest, it only needs to be reasonable compared to online offers. Checking reviews and reading product specifications are at least as important as comparing prices. On the other hand, when already in the store, the most convenient option is likely to buy right away and not have to wait for the delivery truck. Convenience also entails not having to return a product because it was a bad choice pushed by a salesperson on commission.

So what is a brick-and-mortar retailer to do?

Nowadays, most retail stores stock a dizzying array of similar products but offer little help for choosing between them. It is no wonder that shoppers will pull their smartphones in an attempt to get some clarity.

A curated product selection that only keeps the best products in each category and price bracket would be very helpful to most people. A smaller selection would also give sales associates a chance to get to know the products and provide informed advice. Since retail stores already have the local presence and a knowledgeable staff, they can also offer demos and training sessions. Those will not be easily replicated online.

Stores can also amplify the convenience factor. Many retailers now offer in-store pickup. Why not add home delivery of items purchased in the store? As an avid reader I find the following offer genius: “Don’t want to carry heavy books around all day? Buy from your phone while in store and have them delivered!”. Bookstores should also sell the ebook (as a download voucher, similar to a cell phone prepaid card) next to the paper copy. Indie bookstores could sell ebooks on all platforms (kindle, nook, kobo, DRM-free epub, etc) and demonstrate again the power of being independent.

Charging $5 “just for looking” may not be the best idea (but it is a great marketing gimmick, on par with Ryanair’s standing room only flights). Econsultancy has many more great recommendations, as usual.

What about those smartphones?

If someone is using their smartphone in your store, chances are they are using it at your competitors’. They are also using it at work, in the subway and at their friends’ houses. Retailers need to make sure that everytime someone is interested in one of their products, they know where to get it.

Online retailers, led by Amazon, have known this for a long time. They rely on extensive affiliate programs to shepherd blog visitors and app users to their web sites. Brick-and-mortar retailers need to do the same in order to exploit the opportunity presented by smartphones. Companies like Retailigence will take your product and inventory data and make it available to all interested app developers. You can make sure that whenever a product you carry is scanned or discussed online, in social networks or in videos, Internet and smartphone users will know they can get it immediately from your store down the street.

Do you want to start a conversation about shopping in the smartphone age? Please drop me a line at benoit.maison (at) visionsmarts.com.