Showrooming Showdown: Can You Charge Customers to Browse?

One retail shop in Australia is charging customers $5 to look around. Is it a smart or a customer service disaster?
Faith in Focus Columnist, The News & Observer Publishing Company
April 17, 2013

A specialty food store in Brisbane, Australia, is the talk of the retail world for instituting a cover charge for customers who want to come in and browse.

Photos of the sign in the window at Celiac Supplies, a source of gluten- and wheat-free foods, reveal the store's policy is to charge customers $5 to come inside with a promise that the $5 will be deducted from the final bill of sale. The sign goes on to say that the browsing fee is in effect to stop people from coming in and deciding what they want—but leaving the store and searching for it elsewhere.

This customer trend is known as showrooming in the retail industry. Should you try to fight it by instituting a browsing fee at your store?

Made You Look

"The issue of showrooming is huge in the jewelry business," says Kevin Flaherty, vice-president of brand marketing and customer acquisition for Ritani Jewelry. Flaherty says jewelry store owners who sell Ritani products often complain that customers come in to see  jewelry pieces in person, then try to find them cheaper online.

"We've tested the idea of charging customers to see engagement rings and loose diamonds, but it fails miserably every time," Flaherty says. "They are used to walking into a store with zero obligation to buy. If our jewelers charged for an experience, the customer would simply walk down the street to a location that did not."

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Flaherty says his company works with its jewelry store partners to meld the online and offline shopping experiences by offering to send a customer's Internet selections to the retailer's location for an in-person look.

"I don't think the issue is putting a barrier in front of the customer; it's trying to figure out ways to add value to the experience so they don't want to shop anywhere else," Flaherty says.

Sell Your Service

Erica Tevis, owner of Little Things Favors and Little Things Baby, began as an Internet retailer and has added a showroom for some of her favor and gift inventory in Sayreville, New Jersey.

"I have noticed over the five years of having a showroom location that many customers who come in and browse will just look at products and not buy on the spot. They will shop online to try and find the lowest price," Tevis says. "It is my job, and my employees' job, as a sales representative to make every effort to secure the sale whether it be in-store or online."

Tevis says she and her staff rely on a low price guarantee and outstanding customer service to close sales.

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"You will always have some customers who browse for the best pricing, but that is just the cost of doing business," Tevis says. "I would not consider charging a browsing fee as something like that would turn off many customers to my store, my site and my policies."

A Trend—or Not?

The sign on the food shop says the $5 fee is in line with "many other clothing, shoe and electronics stores facing the same issue," although examples of companies taking similar actions are hard to find. The historically free experience of window shopping has been going on as long as there have been stores with windows.

The best way to stop showrooming is to offer competitive pricing and excellent customer service that ensures if a customer steps through your doors—or enters your website—you'll be able to make the sale and the customer won't need to look anywhere else.

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Carla Turchetti is a veteran print and broadcast journalist who likes to break a topic down and keep her copy tight. That's why this bio is so brief! Carla blogs via Contently.com.

 Photo: Getty Images
Faith in Focus Columnist, The News & Observer Publishing Company