If you ask a local business about “showrooming,” they’ll either scowl or, more likely, look befuddled. The practice is booming among consumers, though, and any business owner has probably seen it: a customer walks into the store, browses the shelves, and then whips out her smartphone.
A few minutes later, she’s gone. Where’d she go? Well, she already ordered the item she saw in the store at a discount. On the Internet. Not from your store.
About half of consumers are using showrooming while they’re purchasing. The jury’s out on whether it’s really bad for retail or not-so-bad-but-probably-not-good.
However, one type of retail is suffering more than others: bookstores.
Smartphones instead of knives
Bookstore owners can’t tell who’s doing a bit of showrooming or who’s just looking at reviews. Who’s a genuine customer and who’s some kind of stealthy, sales assassin.
What they do know is that their sales are suffering as a result. One survey showed that:
- 24% of customers had bought a book online that they had originally seen in a bookstore.
- 39% of people who bought books from Amazon said they had looked at the book in the bookstore first.
A lot of other people probably did the same thing, but didn’t think of it like that: they saw a book that looked interesting and thought about it later, when they were at home. Or said, “Well, I don’t have time for that right now, but I’ll look into it later.”
One bookstore owner I know has said that it’s “killing” business.
This kind of behavior reminds me of that old adage: Consumers can complain about bookstores going away, but they’re part of the problem.
Oh, that’s not an adage. It’s just something that’s happening.
We’re using bookstores for curation, but not paying them for the favor
The one thing anyone will tell you about finding good books online is that it’s harder than finding them in the bookstore. Fake reviews, bad self-published books, and just plain inaccurate Amazon algorithms can send you on a long, wearisome journey.
Plus, a lot of people don’t even think about “books” until they’re staring at a whole pile of them.
I don’t know if bookstores can counter showrooming beyond some really innovative business development practices, and the music-cafe-toys thing isn’t really helping Barnes & Noble that much, either.
This all makes me wonder again about a post-bookstore world, and what publishing will mean when and if that happens.