A couple of years ago, a woman walked into the Trak Shak, a running specialty shop near Birmingham. She was shopping for a new pair of running shoes. She tried on a bunch, finally settled on a pair, and headed toward the register with the sales guy.
"And by time they got to the counter with the shoes to make the purchase, she had found a pair online, " says Scott Strand, managing partner at the Trak Shak. "She said, 'Well, I don't want those. I just bought some online,' on her phone."
And that was the moment Scott Strand decided he had to do something. So he put up a sign.
"It says 'Please do not accept our service then buy online. Support your local retailer.'"
Translation: don't showroom here. The sign is still up, but Strand estimates his store still loses tens of thousands of dollars each year to online retailers like Amazon.
One recent poll showed that more than half of showroomers make their purchases at Amazon.com.
Big stores like Target and Best Buy are fighting back.
"Now what brick and mortar retailers have done is they are trying to reduce that competitive disadvantage," says Shankar Ganesan, who teaches marketing at the University of Notre Dame and edits the Journal of Retailing.
He says big box retailers give incentives like price matching. And they offer same-day pickup for items ordered on their websites. Now we're seeing reverse showrooming, or webrooming as it's known.
"That is, they go online first, check out things, and then buy it in the store," Ganesan says.
He says retailers realize people are going to do their homework online -- people like Laura Kate Whitney, a mom and community activist in Birmingham. When she was shopping for a leaf blower, she went online first to read customer reviews.
"And so then I went to the store about a mile from my house to buy it," Whitney says.
She says she's an immediate gratification kind of gal. "Rather than waiting for it to be delivered to my house, I just get in my car and go find it locally."
Even if it cost a little more.
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