Can small businesses turn showrooming to their advantage?

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One of the risks of omnichannel shopping is showrooming, where consumers browse products in person at a store but purchase online from a rival at a better price. This problem has existed for years in the brick-and-mortar world, and the maturation of digital shopping has caused showrooming to spread to more retailers.

Even Amazon, perhaps one of the main beneficiaries of showrooming, is building ways to mitigate the practice in its own retail outlets, such as blocking user's WiFi access or sending a salesperson to discuss the purchase with the shopper.

"Showrooming keeps small business owners awake at night given it's become standard operating procedure for many shoppers," said Raymond Pucci, associate director of research services for Mercator Advisory Group. "Even big retailers like Best Buy recognize the problem by matching online merchants' pricing to save in-store sales."

Since as many as 82% of consumers consult smartphones when making a purchase in a physical store, showrooming can be mitigated by placing the in-store checkout in that channel with an experience similar to an e-commerce purchase, said Rahul Kulkarni, Product Manager at Shopify, a provider of e-commerce and payments technology

"How do you empower merchants to not see this as a threat, but give them the benefit of having an online store?" Kulkarni said.

Merchants don't require an online store to use Shopify also sees the product as a way to nudge stores into online selling. "The stores can dip their toes into into online selling by accepting online payments through email," Kulkarni said.

Buy Online for Shopify POS, which launched this week, can address showrooming and other brick-and-mortar pain points, such as allowing buyers to complete a purchase online if the store is out of stock or has long lines.

"We have a lot of customers that go back home to see how our art will fit into their home before making a purchase, so we see how this email option could be interesting for us," said Tim Veseli, president of National Geographic Fine Art, which is testing "Buy Online." National Geographic Fine Art has a network of galleries that display and sell artworks, mostly photographs of wildlife, nature and urban settings.

National Geographic Fine Art's galleries deploy consultants for shoppers who are shopping for art, a process that often includes changes in the purchase and a credit authorization. In many cases, the shopping and the purchase happen at two different times.

"If a consumer can fill out a shopping cart and get an email to pay it removes a lot of the need for that other work," Veseli said.

The Ottawa-based Shopify is also approaching multichannel shopping from the opposite direction, recently collaborating with Vancouver-based thisopenspace to support in-person sales for e-commerce merchants or online retailers, powering pop up stores or sales at events. Shopify additionally introduced Shopify Pay, which allows checkout via a six-digit code and a new mobile card reader in the past few months.

All of these moves are designed to keep consumers in the same "experience" while shopping or buying regardless of channel.

Shopify's process is not foolproof, since the consumer can still leave a store and buy an item elsewhere, but the local merchant does stay in the loop and can have his or her price matched, Pucci said. "And earlier this year Shopify launched its own POS devices to the seller merchants for card or contactless transactions. Many online sellers find themselves opening brick-and-mortar or pop-up stores, so this keeps them on the Shopify platform."

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