Showrooming: Saving Money by Shopping Twice

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It's called showrooming: visiting a store to check out an item, then buying it online later. How some manufacturers are hoping to stop it, and how you can do it faster and more effectively.

Maybe you haven’t heard the term “showrooming” before, but you’ve probably done it – gone into a local store to lay your hands on a product, then gone home to buy it online.

In fact, a recent survey by market research firm ClickIQ claims, “When checking out a product to purchase, nearly half of consumers who have shopped online within the past six months first checked out the product at their local retail store and then made the purchase online.”

Showrooming has become so widespread that it’s closing down brick-and-mortar stores. “Best Buy shrinks as ‘showrooming’ persists” reads a recent headline from MSNBC, which also reported, “Same-store sales dropped 5 percent while online purchases rose 20 percent – indicating that even Best Buy customers might look, but don’t buy at the stores anymore. In response, the company is closing 50 stores.”

Showrooming isn’t illegal. But if you’re going to do it, here’s how to do it right – including advice for scoring a better deal at the store so you might not have to shop online…

1. What to showroom for

If you’re going to shop twice – once in person and once online – you should make sure the trip is worth the money. Showrooming is best for expensive items you haven’t bought before or in a while. (Think flat-screen TVs and major kitchen appliances.)

It’s also good for items you want to touch first, just to make sure what you’re getting yourself into. (Think laptop and desktop computers.)

Other items aren’t worth handling first in a store if you can get them cheaply online, or if seeing them in person isn’t helpful.  For instance, you can save up to $100 on an HDMI cable for your TV by buying it online at prices as low as $2.99. Visiting a brick-and-mortar store first won’t help, since the cables look so similar.

2. Showrooming on your smartphone

As MSNBC points out, “One reason showrooming has grown is that people are more comfortable comparing prices and buying things online or with a smartphone.”

They’re probably comfortable because it’s so easy. These apps lets you instantly find a product’s price online. There are dozens of them, but let’s look at two popular ones and compare them.

The vastly popular Amazon Mobile is free for both the iPhone/iPad/iPod and Android. Here’s how it works:

  • You “scan it” (using the product’s barcode) or “snap it” (simply take a picture of the product — this works best with video games and movies).
  • In less than a second, you’re shown where you can buy the product on the Internet – either used or new, which is an option you don’t get at the store.

But Amazon Mobile isn’t perfect. When I scanned the barcode of  a paperback called “The Dictionary of Cliches,” the app showed me the prices for Michael Crichton’s “Disclosure” (used from 1 cent, if you’re interested). But when I snapped a picture of it, it gave me an accurate result (used from 2 cents).

So I figured I’d try an app that specializes in barcodes. ShopSavvy is also free for both iPhone/iPad/iPod and Android. It got the barcode correct on my paperback right away, but the cheapest result was 25 cents for a used copy.

Bottom line: Download and use a couple of these apps at the same time. Since most are free, it costs you nothing and can save you a lot.

3. Keep an eye out for big changes

Last month, two big TV manufacturers, Samsung and Sony, started fighting back against showrooming.

The industry website Internet Retailer reported that the two companies are establishing something called “unilateral pricing.” This means they’ll tell retailers not to sell their products below a certain price – whether they’re online or in a bricks-and-mortar store. Internet Retailer explained it like this…

The policies, if the manufacturers can enforce them, will limit price competition among consumer electronics retailers online and off. That may help stores negate some of the impact of shoppers coming to stores to check out and test a new TV model but purchasing it online where they may find it priced for less, a consumer habit increasingly referred to as showrooming.

Apple has been successful with this technique. While it’s unlikely manufacturers of every product will attempt it, if it works for Samsung and Sony, more are sure to follow.

4. Ask for a better deal

If you find the same product online for a better price, it can’t hurt to ask a store manager to match it.  Of course, online retailers don’t have physical stores to maintain, nor do they have to collect sales taxes on some transactions. That makes it tough for bricks and mortar stores to compete.  But local stores can offer other perks, from local customer service to free setup to discounts on other items in the store.  Since it costs nothing to ask, and local stores employ your neighbors and pay taxes in your community, it’s worth a try.

Stacy Johnson

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