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“The best things in life are free. The second best are very expensive.”

Coco Chanel got that right. A women needs love and a pair of designer shoes or sunglasses. Now, the savviest shoppers are finding ways to make sure they don’t spend any more than necessary - without sacrificing the instant gratification of a purchase in hand. (Nothing feels as good as when you get those coveted Jimmy Choos—they rarely go on sale--at the lowest price and you get to wear them to dinner that very night.)

Buyers aren’t the only happy ones. Retailers stand to profit, too, when shoppers research products online but come to the store to close the deal. This “webrooming” trend is the opposite of the “showrooming” phenomenon in which buyers view goods in store and then purchase online. Webrooming is a big opportunity for retailers who offer shoppers the right mix of incentives and experience to shop in store.

No question, the buying experience has changed. No longer are most customers willing to go into a store and buy without first doing some research, whether in store or online. My daughter wanted a pair of White Converse Chuck Taylor for school. Of course, before I even got into my car, I pulled out my iPad and looked to see where the best deal was:

1.      Nordstrom: $44.94

2.      Foot Locker: $49.99

3.      Zappos: $50.00

4.      Amazon $49.17

Also, Nordstrom and Foot Locker allow you to check in-store availability and reserve or buy ahead so I can pick up in store without fear of a wasted trip and avoid shipping fees. The tipping point: I am part of Nordstrom’s loyalty program so I receive Nordstrom bucks for every dollar spent. I had a $20 Nordstrom Note in my bag, so off to Nordstrom we went!

Like me, nearly 70% of Americans have webroomed, according to a Harris Poll  This practice is coming on strong. Last holiday season only about half of U.S. consumers showroomed, according to the survey.

This doesn’t surprise me -- nothing releases those endorphins like walking out of a store with a new purchase while getting the best deal! Retailers like Nordstrom understand this and are finding ways to combat showrooming and encourage in-store purchases through loyalty programs, online price matching and ability to reserve/buy online and pickup in store.

Preferences for online vs. in-store purchases are not a simple one-or-the-other choice, of course. For one thing, there are a lot of in-store options, including "big box" stores, retail chains such as Apple and Gap, and local, one-off stores and small chains. It also depends on what type of product shoppers are buying.

  • Online is the top choice for books, for example, with 41% identifying online as their preference for book purchases, according to the Harris Poll.
  • “Big box” retailers like Walmart are the top selection when it comes to purchasing both large (54%) and small (52%) household appliances, along with personal electronics (38%), desktop or laptop computers (37%) and pet supplies (25%).
  • “Big box” stores also tie for the top spot with local, individual stores or small chains when it comes to purchasing groceries (34%)
  • In-store purchases at retail chains are the top preference for clothing (37%), shoes (35%) and smartphone/cell phone (35%) purchases, also according to Harris

So, how can bricks-and-mortar retailers encourage customers to purchase in store?  Some ideas:

Smartphone offers. A store’s systems might recognize that a consumer who is a member of its loyalty program has arrived in the store. Pairing the shopper’s past purchase history (an apparent obsession with jeans, for instance), with a targeted offer (“Take 30% off jeans today only, just for you!”), could be a potent combination 

In-store pick up of online orders. This simple choice makes all the difference, as we saw with my Nordstrom example, because it allows shoppers the best of both worlds – best price plus instant gratification.

Honor online prices. Offering the same price online and in-store is not desirable at this point for many retailers. But – a big but – honoring the lowering price (usually the online price) for consumers who ask goes a long way toward making people happy. Nordstrom and Best Buy are notable retailers that do this already.

Knowledgeable sales personnel. Especially in the case of high-touch goods (including designer shoes!), nothing beats a skilled, experienced salesperson to help the sale along. There is a reason many retailers pay their highly success salespeople so well.

Order in store but deliver free –If my daughter’s size wasn’t in stock, retailers can offer to place the order in-store and send directly to my house with free shipping! (Again, Nordstrom, who I swear isn’t paying me to write this blog and Sports Authority offer this service as well.)

Happy consumers are the most likely to become loyal customers so the key is to incentivize them to return. “Big box” stores need to have an online presence to compete with online-only retailers and provide the same experience, as well as offering rewards across all channels to engage and win those savvy consumers. 
As my daughter skips to school in her new Converse kicks and I pocket my savings, I hunt for my next “bargain” purchase–a new lens for my Nikon DSLR. Unlike shoes, I have no expertise in camera accessories so Google, here I come...

how you can transform customers in store experience with consistent retail execution, the first step in creating the “perfect store.” It’s all about having the right product in the right place at the right time – and at the right price – ensuring you deliver an amazing consumer experience every time.

Shalini Mitha is Cloud Product Marketing at SAP. Follow Shalini on Twitter @shalinimitha