The technological strides we’ve made as a society are incredible when you think about it. The plethora of communication and information tools we have at our fingertips is mind-boggling. The lion’s share of these advances has impacted our lives for the better. However, there is one group that is dealing with some blowback—brick and mortar shops.

Recently, retail stores have been getting bamboozled by a sensation called showrooming, which essentially is when a customer comes into a store to browse for a product but winds up making the purchase at another store or even at an etailer (such as via a better deal. This, of course, upsets store owners because not only does it negate a sale, but it also wastes time that an employee could have been putting toward assisting another customer.

Technology taketh away, but can also giveth in this case; it can be a great way to thwart showrooming as much as it is an enabler of the process. Businesses can use location-based apps like Foursquare to inform people about seminars and special events, which your online competitors would never offer. Plus, email and social media are pivotal in keeping in touch with, and doling out news to, consumers, not to mention targeting demographics.

Mobile payments and data collection are two more tools that put technology to work battling showroomers. The former makes paying for a brick-and-mortar purchase as simple as online shopping, while the latter helps stores understand their demographics more efficiently.

­­Knowledge is another great weapon against showrooming. Online shopping may be quick and easy, but when a customer has a question about a product, nothing compares to speaking with a salesperson that has all the answers. Intelligent, pleasant and intimate personal service will triumph over the uncongenial formality of Internet shopping more often than not.

We can’t forget about old reliable: free samples. Offering complimentary tastes to expose customers to a new product is a great strategy. How many times are people hesitant to purchase a food to which they’re unaccustomed because they’re nervous or find it unappealing? Many a time. How often do people turn down a free nosh? Rarely, if ever. Then, once they see how delicious it is, they are more likely to insert it into the dinner rotation.

Perhaps the most potent defense against showrooming is smart pricing. Finding a cheaper deal is one of the main reasons people showroom, but competing with other businesses can be tough. If your store can offer deals to offset the cost of discounts—like spend X and get Y off your next purchase—customers will feel good getting an additional discount. A happy customer is a repeat customer 10 times out of 10.

In the end though, you can’t and shouldn’t give away the farm, so be sure to negotiate well with vendors and price appropriately. For more information on pricing, check out Jay Jacobowitz’s column “Pricing Pressure” in this issue.

When it comes to showrooming and attracting customers, retailers can either hop on the technology train or get steamrolled by it. Regardless, technology is going to triumph each and every time. WF

Published in WholeFoods Magazine, July 2013