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The showroom is also a 'buy' room

Editorial

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 3/12/2019 (295 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

It used to be that people preparing for shopping trips wouldn’t leave home without bringing one crucial item: their wallet. Now, there are two must-bring items: their wallet, and their smartphone.

The hand-held link to instant knowledge lets shoppers read online reviews and price-check products before deciding whether to buy. With detailed information only a Google away, shoppers can make better informed choices.

Showrooming's hidden costs

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Daniel Crump / Winnipeg Free Press						</p>																	<p>Anastasia Pasieczka is an admitted "showroom shopper," but she also tries to shop local when she can.						</p>
Daniel Crump / Winnipeg Free Press

Anastasia Pasieczka is an admitted "showroom shopper," but she also tries to shop local when she can.

Posted: 29/11/2019 8:59 PM

Are you planning on buying something this Cyber Monday that you’ve examined in a local store earlier? If so, you’ve only got yourself to blame when your favourite shop goes out of business.

Some people call it comparison shopping — browsing in shops, asking employees questions, then buying those products online or in big box stores. Retailers are labelling the practice “showroom shopping or showrooming,” and small business owners say it’s killing them.

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Unfortunately, the technological transformation of retail shopping has also created victims. Small-business owners say their sales have been eroded by an increasingly common practice that some say is unethical. It’s called "showrooming," and it happens when a shopper looks at a prospective purchase in a store’s showroom, liberally exploits the time and expertise of store staff, but eventually opts to buy the product online, usually at a lower price.

Sixty per cent of retail businesses have experienced showrooming, according to a recent survey of 1,600 small business owners by the Canadian Federation of Independent Business. Ninety per cent of those said showrooming impacts their sales. The stores most affected are those that sell higher-priced goods such as electronics, furniture, heavy machinery and jewellery.

Views on the ethical propriety of showrooming seem to be sharply split, with the divide often determined by whether one stands behind, or before, the cash register.

Some shoppers defend showrooming as the modern evolution of retail price comparisons, which – in the pre-computer days, before everyone was plugged in — were typically practised through word-of-mouth, traditional advertising and in-person visits to numerous stores selling the same goods. They argue price comparisons encourage the competitive business environment that is a crucial pillar of successful capitalism.

For retailers, however, it can be disheartening to lose local business to online behemoths such as eBay and Amazon. The local businesses face a tall tally of expenses that comes with running a bricks-and-mortar store in the community. No wonder they can’t always match online prices.

The most successful retailers view online shopping as an opportunity instead of a threat, and they are agile enough to transform their enterprise with a competitive e-strategy. They invest in online marketing, e-commerce, in-store WiFi that allows immersive brand experiences, and post-purchase connections with customers through emails and social-media incentives such as loyalty programs with discounts.

For retailers it can be disheartening to lose local business to online behemoths such as eBay and Amazon. (Matias Ocner / Miami Herald files)

For retailers it can be disheartening to lose local business to online behemoths such as eBay and Amazon. (Matias Ocner / Miami Herald files)

Perhaps most importantly, Manitoba retailers have the upper hand in one area. Call it the hometown advantage. Manitobans like to support other Manitobans. The geographic isolation of this province’s cities and towns has helped instil a strong awareness that we depend on each other, and we take care of our own.

This buttressing of the community’s merchants can be expressed by methods as emotionally direct as a sign in a store’s window ("Love where you live: buy local!").

Behind the rah-rah boosterism of such slogans, there are well-reasoned concerns about the dangers of showrooming: if a growing number of Manitoba shoppers fill their retail needs online, Manitoba stores will shrink and some will close. They won’t pay taxes, hire local people and give customers the opportunity to get up close with the products and knowledgeable salespeople.

In a scenario that’s mutually beneficial, Manitoba shoppers will recognize local retailers face higher costs and need to price some items higher to make a fair profit, and Manitoba retailers won’t take advantage of hometown goodwill and attempt a profit that’s more than fair.

While it’s tempting to save a few bucks by ordering online, Manitoba benefits in the long term if Manitobans support local businesses. Spend it here, keep it here.

Editorials are the consensus view of the Winnipeg Free Press’ editorial board.

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