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Fred Clements: Webrooming, a trend that may help brick-and-mortar stores

Published February 17, 2014
A blog by NBDA executive director Fred Clements.

Editor's note: This blog post was written by Fred Clements, executive director of the National Bicycle Dealers Association. Clements' previous blog posts can be read on

When a person walks into a local bike shop and uses his or her smartphone to compare prices with on-line retailers (AKA showrooming), some store owners take offense.

After all, the owners have made a sizeable investment in the store, people and inventory. When consumers use that investment against them to compare and buy elsewhere, it doesn't seem to be within the limits of fair play.

But showrooming may not be the biggest driver of Internet shopping trends versus brick-and-mortar. A new study from RR Donnelly suggests that the most significant trend may be its opposite: webrooming.

Webrooming is when customers start their shopping online to gather information, but use that information to visit local brick-and-mortar stores to buy.

Donnelly reported that during the 2012 holiday season, showrooming was up 400 percent over 2011. But in 2013, a Harris Pollreported that while nearly half (46 percent) of shoppers say they have showroomed, a far higher number say they have webroomed (69 percent).

Donnelly wrote, "Webrooming ... doesn't mean the in-store shopping apocalypse has come. On the contrary, rather than poaching customers, in most cases shoppers browse online and then go to the store to touch and feel the product and then make the final purchase."

Does that mean that is actually benefiting brick-and-mortar stores? Let's not get too carried away, but maybe Amazon may be a benefit, sometimes, at least for brands that control their distribution to allow competitive pricing. According to Harris, 48 percent of webroomers named Amazon as their primary source of information before shopping at a brick-and-mortar location.

The Donnelly report, entitled "Why Webrooming Is Giving Brick-and-Mortar a Big Win" concludes that both showrooming and webrooming are here to stay.

"After years of assuming shoppers would firmly shift to trying on jeans or testing smartphones in the store and then heading online for a better price, experts say webrooming is booming because consumers are not strictly looking at dollar signs," Donnelly reported.

As retailing evolves, brick-and-mortar retailers are adapting and learning how to make better use of e-commerce to the benefit of their businesses, the report continued.

"Webrooming is certainly proving to be a big win for retailers, and showrooming is less painful for retailers than originally thought," Donnelly noted, "especially if they can take advantage of showrooming on their own e-commerce sites and driving customers in-store.

"Consumers aren't giving up the store experience," the report noted. "They still want to see, touch and feel products just as often as they sometimes want the convenience and low prices of online purchases."

According to an Accenture study, 49 percent of consumers say the best way retailers can improve the shopping experience is to better integrate in-store, online and mobile shopping. Eighty-nine percent say they want retailers to make it easy for them to shop for products in whatever channel is most convenient.

Much of this should be good news for bicycle dealers, and for specialty product suppliers and consumers who rely on thriving local bike shops.

Some conclusions?

  • Because so many consumers are shopping on-line and buying in stores, it continues to be important for bike shops to have a first-class Internet presence. When people research on the web, they need to find their local store well represented;
  • After searching the web, many consumers who visit a store already have information, but they need the kind of great customer service and shopping environment that will motivate them to buy;
  • With all this web research going on, many people already know about prices. Bike dealers need to make sure they can be price competitive by carrying products from specialty companies with distribution practices compatible with brick-and-mortar stores;
  • If you're not already comfortable with using the Internet including social media to connect with customers and represent your business, the report suggests it's time to become so.


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