Showrooming—customers looking at products in stores and then buying online—has already been largely debunked, since most of those "showrooming" customers actually buy online from the same retailer where they looked at the merchandise. But there's more: "reverse showrooming" appears to be an even larger phenomenon, according to David Sevitt and Alexandra Samuel in Harvard Business Review.
After surveying almost 3,000 social media users in North America and the UK, Sevitt and Samuel found that only 26 percent regularly engaged in showrooming. But 41 percent said they browsed online and then purchased in-store, which the researchers dubbed reverse showrooming. They also found that Pinterest was a major driver of in-store sales: 21 percent of Pinterest users surveyed said they bought a product in-store after pinning, repinning or liking it. For customers under 35, 36 percent said they'd done that.
That suggests the threats posed by in-store mobile use are overblown. While other surveys have shown customers do use their phones in-store to compare prices, they also check features, read reviews and generally do all the things many customers do before any purchase that's not an impulse buy. Doing that with mobile in-store may simply serve to shorten the research time required before a sale is closed.
Of course, what's now called showrooming existed long before mobile phones. Some customers have always checked out merchandise in local stores first, then bought through a mail-order catalog or during a trip to a larger city where prices are cheaper. It was just harder to quantify before mobile commerce and social media.
Sevitt and Samuel did identify five frequently repeated patterns among Pinterest users for purchasing products (some took one to three weeks, others less than a day to close the sale). But their argument that Pinterest itself is the magic that drives customers into stores is a bit unconvincing. It seems likely that almost any social-media way of collecting product information would work about the same way.
- See this Harvard Business Review article
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