Showrooming is the trend towards shoppers visiting stores to see a product, but then buying it online or from some other store. The reason they go elsewhere is usually price and they often use their smartphones to compare prices.
There's been a number of recent stories on showrooming with varying points of view of it's impact. CNN's Will Showrooming Kill Businesses takes the view the trend is quite damaging to brick and mortar stores.
The Wall Street Journal's Can Retailers Halt Showrooming? also suggests showrooming is hurting brick and mortar stores.
Meanwhile, the analyst firm Forrester thinks the showrooming problem is way overstated. According to one of their recent studies as reported by Business Insider:
"Forrester’s forecast suggests that many consumers may in fact nonetheless choose to purchase products in stores because of the immediate availability of products, service levels associated with buying in stores, or because of the fact that the products online do not have significant benefit over those in stores. As long as pricing is generally comparable across channels, consumers are unlikely to switch to another retailer or channel."
We're in the camp that thinks showrooming is going to have a strong, negative impact on many small businesses.
Showrooming is part of the much broader trend towards business transparency.
The growth of the Internet, online reviews, social media and smartphones is rapidly increasing the transparency of business in general and retail transactions in particular. Because of the growth of mobile computing, cloud computing and big data, consumers increasingly have real-time access to price data as well as detailed information on products (ingredients, where they're made, etc.) and service.
Small businesses need to be aware of the new levels of business transparency and understand how it affects them. In particular, business models built around a lack of price, product or service transparency - and many small businesses have such models - will increasingly fail.
We think the impact of increasing transparency on small businesses is very underestimated. We also think showrooming and related actions by consumers is just beginning.