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‘Showrooming’ – a glass half full?

According to a study by the Pew Research Centre, more than half of adult mobile phone owners in the US used their phones while they were in a store during the Christmas holiday season to seek help with purchasing decisions – with most who purchased then opting to do so in the store anyway.

During a 30-day period before and after Christmas:
– 38 percent of mobile owners used their phones to call a friend while they were in a store for advice about a purchase they were considering making;
– 24 percent used their phones to look up reviews of a product online while they were in a store;
– 25 percent used their phones to look up the price of a product online while they were in a store, to see if they could get a better price somewhere else.

There are a number of demographic patterns in these survey findings. Specifically:
– Mobile owners ages 18-49 are significantly more likely to use their phones for online product reviews than are cell owners aged 50 and older. Cell owners ages 65 and older are especially unlikely to do this;
– Urban and suburban consumers are roughly twice as likely as their country cousins to have recently used their phone to look up online reviews of a product they found in a physical store;
– Those who have attended college are more likely to do so than those who have not.

Price matching
Online price matching and looking up online reviews frequently go hand in hand. Overall, of the 33 percent who used their phone to look up either product reviews or prices online, roughly half (representing 17 percent of mobile hone owners) used their phones to engage in both of these activities.

As a result, the same groups that use their phones to look up online product reviews are generally the same ones that use their phones to look up online pricing information.

One in five ‘mobile price matchers’ ultimately made their most recent purchase from an online store, rather than a physical location, but almost twice as many purchased the product in the store where the mobile research took place.

When asked what happened on the most recent occasion where they used their phone to look up the price online of a product they found in a store, these mobile price matchers point to a range of outcomes:
– 37 percent decided to not purchase the product at all;
– 35 percent purchased the product at that store;
– 19 percent purchased the product online;
– 8 percent purchased the product at another store.

Since one quarter of mobile owners looked up the price of a product using their phone in the 30 days preceding our survey, that works out to 5 percent of all mobile phone owners who purchased a product online last holiday season after looking up its price online from a physical store. An additional 9 percent searched for the price of a product they found in a physical store but ultimately purchased it at that store.

The Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project is an initiative of the Pew Research Center, a non-profit “fact tank” that provides information on the issues, attitudes, and trends shaping America and the world. More information is available at

COMMENT: This research tells us that ‘showrooming’ is not the unmitigated disaster it’s been made out to be. It doesn’t have to be a one-way street. Don’t assume the sale is lost if someone in your store whips out their smartphone and jumps onto a price-matching website. Of those who actually go on to make a purchase (and remember, ‘tyre-kickers’ have been with us well before the internet) twice as many will buy in your store as not. Superior retail sales skills may be able to convert ‘showrooming’ consumers into purchasers.  


One Comment

  1. James Madelin James Madelin April 27, 2012

    Brilliant article and comment. I’d add to “Superior retail sales skills may be able to convert ‘showrooming’ consumers into purchasers” to say that even ‘some’ retail skills go a long way, long before you’re deploying ‘superior’ skills. Things as simple as encouraging your staff to open conversations. Post the links to your products on your own website in your store, or to independent review sites in order to achieve some degree of control of your mobile browsing customers.

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