According to research from TNS Mena around mobile phone usage, it is not uncommon for shoppers to visit stores to test products but buy them later elsewhere – a trend emerging as a significant threat to traditional offline retailers.
TNS's annual Mobile Life study, based on responses from 38,000 people in 43 countries, shows that although showrooming is a very real threat with one third of mobile users admitting to the practise, mobiles can also help savvy brands minimise the risk.
"Among consumers who showroom, two thirds use their phone whilst doing so, providing a major opportunity for brands to interact with consumers via mobile and turn browsers into buyers," says Steve Hamilton-Clark, CEO of TNS Mena.
Showrooming is a global phenomenon, but the role played by mobiles varies significantly across the world. In markets where the first Internet introduction has been via a handset, shoppers are highly likely to use their mobile when showrooming. The study suggests 87% likelihood in the Middle East and North Africa, 75% in emerging Asia and 67% in Sub-Saharan Africa.
In developed markets, where online shopping is well established, this is less likely although still strong with figures showing around 56 per cent of showroomers in both North America and Europe using their phones in this way.
Matthew Froggatt, TNS Global's Chief Development Officer, says that the convergence of digital development, mobile Internet and online shopping poses a very real threat to traditional bricks and mortar retailers, but this is also opportunity for brands that get their customer engagement right.
"Some behaviours, such as using a mobile to conduct independent research in-store, present risks to retailers as external influences may increase a shopper's likelihood of purchasing elsewhere meaning retail outlets are left with loss-making display cabinets.
"However, on a brighter note, the study also shows that people are open to engaging with brands whilst in-store. More than one fifth of smartphone owners are said to be keen to receive mobile coupons whilst shopping and a similar proportion indicated interest in apps that help them navigate the store they are in," he says.
Smartphone vs. smart sales staff
The Mobile Life study also shows that knowledgeable sales staff is a valuable asset, with over a third preferring to speak to a sales assistant, whilst the same number would like to look up information on their phone but the idea of a virtual assistant is gathering interest with 13 per cent of those polled open to this.
"This openness to interaction presents a real opportunity for brands that get their mobile strategy right to engage meaningfully at the point of purchase consideration," adds Froggatt.
He said that rather than seeing mobile as a threat to in-store sales, brands and retailers must embrace it as the most immediate and personalised way to engage shoppers to ensure they don't leave empty-handed.
Price emerged as one of the biggest drivers, with showrooming consumers looking for reassurance on price and suitability, with 16 per cent globally reading reviews or checking social media in-store to inform their decision-making, and a quarter asking friends and family what they would recommend buying, going as high as 49 per cent in emerging Asia and 42 per cent in India.
"Mobile may seem like the enemy as it opens up the retail environment to a potentially limitless range of competitors. However, the key for brands and retailers is to find ways to use the mobile to make buying in-store the convenient option," Froggatt observes.
"By understanding exactly how consumers are using their mobile in-store, brands and retailers can improve their own offering through apps, mobile coupons or simply by greater provision of information - and begin to nudge shoppers back towards the tills."
Echoing his sentiments Hamilton-Clark stressed that as mobile engagement grows, consumer brands must be ready to manage a full spectrum of customer services, from assisting pre-purchase research, through to product selection, purchase, delivery, as well as a slick after-sales service.
"While we continue to choose diverse ways of seeking purchasing reassurance, an integrated approach that meets customer needs at all touchpoints is essential," he explains. TNS's 2013 Mobile Life study is available here in full.