“Showrooming”—when shoppers use physical stores to browse for items they buy for less online—has a bad rap. It’s been blamed for the closure of independent retailers across the United States and used to explain why Amazon is evil.
New analysis of data from ShopAdvisor, a mobile app that people use to compare prices online while shopping in physical stores, suggests showrooming isn’t as damaging to small retailers as people think.
The analysis of 128,000 ShopAdvisor price scans, conducted by tech blog Pando Daily, shows that certain types of products are scanned far more than others. Health and beauty products (think shampoo) accounted for 15 percent of the scans, toys accounted for 14 percent and books accounted for 10 percent. About 70 percent of the scans were for small-ticket items costing between $20 and $50.
The data suggests that showrooming is particularly common in product categories where people care more about the brands than the retailers that sell them—say, when shopping for Legos at a big-box retailer. A study last year by Placed, a mobile analytics company, confirmed that major retailers such as Bed Bath & Beyond, PetSmart and Sears are the most hurt by shoppers comparing prices on Amazon.
“The message from ShopAdvisor’s data is clear: product areas where people feel more connected to brand than store are most ripe to lose business to Amazon’s across the board discounts,” Pando Daily’s James Robinson writes, adding: “The cultural worry that through showrooming, Amazon will manipulate independent retailers to do the hard part and then swoop in and take the sale, isn’t as relevant.”
The study shows the importance, however, of independent retailers differentiating themselves in the market, building strong customer loyalty and cultivating a unique product mix that can’t be easily replicated online. The more that shoppers view an independent retailer shopping experience as memorable and valuable to their lives, the less tempted they will be to pull out their price-check app.
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Photos: Getty Images, Cassandra Hubbart