Reverse Showrooming

Showrooming – the practice of cruising brick-and-mortar stores for a hands-on look at a product but buying it for less online – has been cast as a threat to traditional retail. Target went so far as to pull Kindle eReaders from their shelves to protest Amazon’s active encouragement of the practice.

My personal experience is quite the opposite. I’m a patient shopper. When I think of a thing I want to buy, I research the crap out of it. This is a lot easier with sites like The Wirecutter that can narrow down your choices to a few solid contenders and layer in some candid opinion. But when you find yourself looking at an unfamiliar product in a store at what seems like a reasonable price, what do you do? Of course, you pull out the smartphone and Google it.

I’ve been thinking of getting a handsfree speakerphone for the car for quite a while. As a product category, this one is a lot harder to research than say, a television, as there loads of different models and manufacturers out there, and retail availability is pretty random. But I had been keeping my eye out for one, knowing the average price for a decent one was $70-$90.

So when I found myself killing some time in a Collingwood Wal-Mart (pro tip: inexpensive Clif bars can be found in the pharmacy section) and found a couple of different bluetooth handsfree speakerphones for under $45, it was reverse showroom time.

At first glance, the Plantronics K100 looked like the inferior model, but that was strictly price bias – it was only $28. The Motorola T225 was only $44, which still seemed like a good deal. However a quick Google check of the two models revealed a clear winner and a great bargain:



The Plantronics was selling for half of the already discounted price on Amazon, more importantly it had a 4-start customer rating on a substantial 99 reviews. The Motorola had only 3 reviews and a lower rating. And despite my earlier claims of shopping patience, walking out of the store with your purchase certainly is nicer than the delayed gratification of online shopping.

Best of all, The Plantronics is a great little unit. Really nice product design and an intelligent user interface. 99% of the functions I use regularly are all accessed via a the single large button in the middle. And though it doesn’t advertise this feature, it integrates nicely with Siri on iOS, so you can voice dial someone or request a mapped location without ever touching your iPhone.

It’s impressive enough that I plan to post a review of it soon – there is some great product design here that goes well beyond ticking all the boxes on the specs checklist. Not bad or $28 – I’d still recommend it at triple the price.

So perhaps Target was misguided in this whole showrooming thing. Traditional retail has a lot to offer that online shopping can’t, like no waiting and no shipping fees. But better still, they can capitalize on those strengths by better informing customers using online reviews and comparative pricing. Print out mini-reviews and ratings and post them next to the products (as long as you are competitive on price – and don’t forget to include the 24h shipping charge). If you are in a position to make product ordering decisions, use online reviews to decide what products to stock. Don’t rely on the sales rep or a sell sheet for guidance, rely on the customer. Think about the buying decision and what risks the customer has to assume when making a purchase. Will I be satisfied with this item? Is it a good value at this price? Online reviews, while uneven in quality, at least have no vested interest in a specific purchase you are considering, so are inherently more trustworthy.