The answer to showrooming? Improve customer experience

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“Should we believe the hype?” was the first question posed by moderator Lydia Schulz, American Express’ VP & GM, Retail Industry, to the panel during the “Showrooming: An Opportunity or a Threat,” breakout session. Jerry O’Brien, Director of Kohl’s Center for Retailing Excellence, University of Wisconsin-Madison, responded with a confident “no.” O’Brien, who spent 27 years with the Target Corporation, said showrooming is the next evolution of retail – it is a new way to do business. Rather than trying to counter showrooming, he encouraged retailers to consider the question “How can I improve the customer experience?”

From left to right: Lydia Schulz, Herman Nell, Cheryl Berinato, and Jerry O’Brien

Throughout the panel discussion with O’Brien, Herman Nell, PETCO’s VP & CIO, and Cheryl Berinato, Macy’s Director of Consumer Insights & Strategy, it was clear that showrooming affects all aspects of retail. Here’s what the experts had to say:

Visual display. Nell acknowledged that PETCO, “where the pets go,” has an advantage in this arena. Other retailers, however, should consider how to integrate and step up their interactive displays.

Merchandising. Macy’s spoke about the importance of differentiation in product, and how offering exclusive and unique partnerships with designers and private label brands help set them apart.

Real estate. O’Brien said the concept of “stack ‘em high and make ‘em fly” no longer applies. Retailers are moving toward less store space and more warehouse space, and keeping the focus on the in-store experience. Macy’s highlighted the importance of renovation and shared highlights of their Herald Square store, which is undergoing the largest renovation in the history of retail.

Training. All panelists agreed that associates are retailers’ most powerful tool. Training should be focused on helping associates help customers find what they’re looking for. Equipping associates with a smartphone so they can track down the right pair of shoes in the right size can go a long way to save a sale and gain customer loyalty.

Economics. The topic of price-matching was raised, and O’Brien emphasized that retailers should offer value over price. As in, strategy should be wowing in the store, not cutting prices.

Technology. All agreed that cash registers are changing. Investment in new technology, particularly devices like smartphones, should serve multiple purposes such as adding sales, informing customers, and training associates, to justify the expense.

This year’s American Express aspire2retail challenge was also focused on showrooming. During the session, students from the winning team delivered highlights from their presentation, which included elements of omnichannel retail, use of mobile apps, improving store experience, and bundling merchandise. All in all, the conclusion from each group was that showrooming isn’t going anywhere, and retailers should use it as an opportunity to remain focused on how to gain customer trust and loyalty.

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