Staying Relevant in Retail

Retail showrooming and e-commerce | BCBusiness
When it comes to the showrooming trend in retail, not all products are vulnerable.

Retail experts at the ICSC’s Next Generation Panel explore e-commerce, branding and retail marketing

The ICSC brought together four retail-industry experts to discuss the idea of connective retail and explore how to adapt to today’s consumer. The panel was moderated by Ian Cruickshank, partner at Chasm, and the experts included Mauro Padula, Western region vice-president of leasing for SmartCentres; Stephen Knight, president of Sitings Realty Ltd.; Ed des Roches, owner of Plum Clothing; and Shafiq Jamal, senior vice-president at Edelman Vancouver.

Retail Showrooming Trend

The first topic—and the most discussed—was the issue of showrooming, the recent trend where consumers check out products in bricks-and-mortar stores, then take their search online to find the best price on that exact item. According to Shafiq Jamal, showrooming is a symptom of a bigger issue in retail that needs addressing: creating a connected experience for the consumer.

It was noted by Stephen Knight that not all retailers are vulnerable to the trend, and that products like paint and custom items are less likely to fall victim, whereas electronics are typically fair game for online shopping. So if one e-commerce strategy does not fit all, how does a retailer stop its customers from inspecting in-store goods only to pay someone else in the end?

Ed des Roches says he avoids branded goods—which so many electronics happen to be—and instead opts for in-store labels and seeks out obscure brands that customers are not likely to find elsewhere. Not only does it help your store curb the showrooming trend, but it also creates a more original shopping experience.

What Branding Means in Retail

“Brand wasn’t always what it is today; today brand is everything,” says des Roches. “Right now what is happening with the evolution of the brand—if the brand has built-in equity into a product, that brand can now be sold almost anywhere on the Internet or in any store, so you leave yourself open to discounting on that brand.”

Jamal added that retailers need to create a connected experience from in-store to online, and find a way to differentiate their store, making it stand apart from the competition. According to a recent study by Edelman, people are increasingly losing trust in business and corporations, which means the opportunity for connecting with customers lies in peer reviews and word-of-mouth. Give your customers a great experience and that message will travel among consumers.

Losing business to e-commerce can also be thwarted by giving your customers something in-person that could never be replicated online. As one event attendee said, “There’s buying stuff online, and then there’s shopping.”

Where to Spend Retail Marketing Dollars

Following the remarks regarding the consumer experience, the conversation shifted to marketing dollars—namely, where and how to spend them. Des Roches says he’s been spending less, but focusing a larger chunk of those dollars on building up the relationship that he has with existing customers.

“You’ve got to keep the conversation going with your customer,” he says. “Once they leave the store, you have an opportunity now—through the Internet—to be able to keep the relationship going. You can converse with them in many ways—small ways—but you can keep them top-of-mind.”

Jamal discussed a concept he calls the “cover leaf”: traditional media; your own branded website; social media; and hybrid media (like the Huffington Post). “You may need to be strategically looking at how you allocate your dollars,” says Jamal. “If you can adapt by being there on the channels where your customers are likely to be […], you can figure out the new value proposition in how you’re going to differentiate yourself from the competition.”