Your store aisles are a buyer’s market. Like 84% of smartphone owners, your consumer uses her phone to aid her in-store shopping – checking prices, reading consumer opinions, reviewing shipping options. Your inventory, your shelving displays, your store atmosphere got her ready to buy – but through her phone, someone else got the sale.

Can you really blame the consumer for looking out for herself, finding the best price and most convenient delivery method for her? Showrooming joins the internet, social, and mobile as yet another grain on the scale, tipping power toward the consumer. And just like those trends, it’s an opportunity to win more shoppers to your brand.

The futility of fighting consumer preference

You cannot fight the tide of consumer behavior. You cannot force consumers to behave the way you want them to. The music industry didn’t like people streaming for free online, or downloading one song at a time. But no amount of lawsuits or regulations has forced consumers back to paying full price for full albums.

A few companies recognized that the internet had irreversibly changed the way listeners consume music, and then adapted. iTunes sells songs a la carte. Pandora lets listeners stream free with a few ads. Spotify sells listeners access to all the music they love, anywhere via mobile.

What do these companies have in common? They remembered the old adage: the customer is always right. The way people want to consume your product, use your service, or shop at your store is the right way. You have to mold to them, not the other way around. So once you surrender to the reality of mobile-aided shopping, how do you make showrooming work for you, not against you?

Become the showroom

Imagine a small, showroom-only store. The floor is stocked with just one or two of each item, inviting consumers to touch, try on, and play with the physical product. Kiosks or digital displays let shoppers customize their product, read owner reviews, watch informational videos. Store staff armed with tablets actively help shoppers order online. The minor retail footprint, limited inventory, and smaller staff required drastically reduces the store’s overhead.

Amazon, Walmart, and eBay are all rushing to achieve same-day delivery before the holiday shopping season begins – and rumor has it Amazon will soon open physical retail stores. If/when a shopper can examine a product in-store, order there online, and receive it conveniently at home later that day, isn’t it reasonable to believe that retail showrooms would become the norm, not outliers? And if, like me, you believe that they will, then what are you waiting for?

Own mobile-aided shopping in stores

In the meantime, take ownership of the mobile shoppers in your current stores. Create an app experience specific to in-store shopping, and promote it in the store. This could simply mean offering an in-store option on your mobile app, or it might mean creating a separate app for use in stores. Determine what is right for your business.

Help shoppers use the app to bring the best of online into your store. Let them scan bar codes to find additional sizes, different colors, reviews, pictures, etc. Toys ‘R Us lets shoppers order through their mobile app and ship to their home from the warehouse, to their home from a local store, or to their local store from the warehouse – which brings shoppers back into the store.

Use content in the app to inspire new purchases – recipes, creative product uses, etc. Home Depot uses QR codes in aisles to direct shoppers to do-it-yourself videos on home projects like painting and tiling. By teaching consumers, they inspire new projects – and new sales.

Gather and learn from mobile shopper data

Start learning as much about mobile shoppers as you can. What do consumers use your mobile app for most? Least?

Offer free wifi in your stores. Are other sites/apps more popular in your stores than your own? Study those mobile offerings. What makes them more helpful? How can you improve your own mobile experience based on what consumers prefer to use?

Invite feedback on your mobile experience through the app itself. Target your most active shoppers with a focus group, asking them to shop with the app and then share what they like, what they wish the app had, etc.

Showrooming is an opportunity, not a problem. Accept that it is not going away, and you start to see the many ways it can benefit your brand.

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