What Is Showrooming and Why Should You Care?

Checking Products Out at One Venue and Buying Them Elsewhere Causes Pain

Showrooming. Tony Hutchings / Photographer's Choice / Getty Images

In an earlier article titled, "Selling to Those Who Want the Most Bang for the Buck," I used the term "showrooming." A couple of readers wrote to me, asking me to tell them more about this strange new addition to ecommerce jargon.

What Is Showrooming?

Several consumers prefer to physically check out an object (TV, washing machine, toy, ...) before buying it. That drives them to offline retailers. At the same time, they do not want to miss out on the great deals available with online retailers.

So guess what they do? They check out the product offline, i.e., at a showroom, and buy it online. This practice is called showrooming. As you can guess, offline retailers hate it, and ecommerce businesses love it.

Why Do Showroomers Showroom?

Ok, I am probably contributing to jargon with that heading, but you get what I am trying to say right?

People showroom primarily for the pleasure of physical experience simultaneously with online discounts. But there's more. Other than discounts, ecommerce players often offer a social shopping experience that customers have come to value. Customers may also be interested in reward points and other goodies showered upon them by ecommerce players who seem mysteriously uninterested in making a profit!

Why Does Showrooming Hurt Retailers?

In addition to the obvious loss of sales, the overhead of servicing customers who have no intention of buying places an additional strain on the cost structure of physical retailers.

Also, as more people come over to check out products, samples and display items wear out faster: once again causing financial pain to offline retailers.

Who Is Guilty of Showrooming?

Research shows that the younger customer is more likely to showroom. This can be explained by the fact that the younger have adapted to ecommerce far easier than those who grew up exclusively with offline retail.

What Can Be Done to Stem Showrooming?

If feasible, one of the best ways would be to sell goods offline at the same price as online retailers. Because of differing cost structures, this might be difficult. Despite this difficulty, if you are an offline retailer with an online storefront too, you better offer an identical deal on both platforms. That's easier said than done, which explains why most offline retailers have not gained too much success online.

What Is Webrooming, and Is That Even a Thing?

Interestingly, shortly after showrooming emerged as a new phenomenon, we are hearing about instances of webrooming. And if you have never heard of that word before, well, think of it as the antonym of showrooming. So webrooming is reverse showrooming, i.e., the practice of customers checking out products online and then going at purchasing it offline. It is important to figure out what would promote webrooming. Clearly,​ webroomers are perceiving benefits of physical retail that they do not find online. Maybe it's the speed: I can get my hands on a product in minutes offline vs. days online. Maybe online discounts have dried up, and the customer would much rather check things online and buy them immediately.

Maybe there's a warmer feeling in engaging with human retailers than ecommerce websites and apps.

Does Showrooming Spell Doom for Offline Retail?

That's really like asking whether ecommerce spells doom for offline retail, isn't it? My answer is as good as yours. Still, if you want to know my answer, well, I think that ecommerce is going to wreck havoc for physical retail. But when the dust settles, there will be some categories that will primarily sell offline, while a lot of retail will move online.

(Note: in this article, I have often used the word "showroom" as a verb. Though this is not yet accepted usage, I think it should be. So go ahead and use it this way, and if someone protests, tell them I said it's ok {insert smiley here}).