There’s a lot of buzz in industry circles these days about the impact of “showrooming” on brick-and-mortar brands. Witness the excellent overview by Ann Zimmerman in the April 11 US edition of the Wall Street Journal,“Can Retailers Halt ‘Showrooming?’”
Ms. Zimmerman notes the anti-showrooming efforts of such retailers as Target and Walmart, and the challenge of meeting-and-beating pure play pricing and assortment breadth.
And, she also gets to the core of the issue: It’s not about competition between stores and pure play websites. It’s about competition between the websites of brick-and-mortar brands, and the websites of the pure plays.
We live in the era of Google, an era of web-based search, an era where just about any detail of just about anything can be found on the Internet. Studies of recent shopper behavior show a steady climb in the number of US shoppers who begin their purchase journey with online research. Nearly two-thirds of US adults do so regularly.
The Internet is the front door to all retail brands these days – not just the pure plays. It’s where shoppers are initially won or lost – and where store traffic is increasingly generated.
A long-standing hypothesis around here is that we’ve entered a new age of internet-shaped shopper expectations.
The thinking is that, in this age of Google, Amazon, and ubiquitous connectivity, an increasing number of Western shoppers now expect the entire world to work like an iPad 3 hooked to a steroidal data pipe.
Where, with a flick of the finger, anything and everything can be found. In multiple choice. Where comparative price and product data is there for all to see. Where transparency is equated with authenticity, and authenticity with trust.
And where everything moves ahead at blink-of-an-eye speed.
Evidence of the latter was found this past week on the front page of the New York Times.
Steve Lohr (“For Impatient Web Users, an Eye Blink Is Just Too Long to Wait”) reported that Google researchers found that a delay of four hundred milliseconds or more between key stroke and computer response – that’s four-tenths of a second, literally the blink of an eye – will cause people to search less.
According to a computer scientist at Microsoft, a response time of 250 milliseconds is now the magic number “for a competitive advantage” on the web.
Truth be told, our impatient society will wait more than a few blinks for a big video file to download. But Google research shows that four of five online users will click away if a video stalls while loading.
In this day and age, it’s lack of speed that kills.
Worth remembering as one designs the next web experience.
Worth remembering as one designs the next store experience.
Ladies and gentlemen, start your engines.
p.s. I will be speaking at the Catch Em and Keep Em Webcast on Thursday March 8th, 2012 about our research released at NRF 2012 back January. We will talk about what in our research show how retailers can catch and keep the channel hopping consumers. You can register to watch the event here.
If you’re a retail technologist and you haven’t yet read the December 2011 issue of the Harvard Business Review, let me offer a friendly suggestion: Stop what you’re doing. Find a way to buy the issue. Sit down and absorb.
Three articles (one of them an interview with JC Penney’s Ron Johnson, he of Target and Apple Store fame). It’s all about how we need to be thinking about the physical environment of retailing. What it represents. Why it’s critically important today and tomorrow. And what retailers have to do to save the store, and in doing so, save the business.
The reality of today’s shopping behavior is that it’s cross-channel. Consumers bounce between the so-called touch points as they move through the shopping journey, from PC to mobile to store. And then maybe to the cash-wrap. Or back to the PC. Or maybe to the tablet while curled up on the sofa.
At any of these points, you can win a customer. At any point you can lose a customer. The data from numerous sources – including Cisco’s October 2011 survey of US and UK shoppers – makes clear that the store can play a huge role in online transactions, and that the PC and smartphone play a huge role in store transactions.
Bottom line for those who diss the store: it’s still where the vast majority of shopping is happening. And, if you starve your store experience, you’ll lose customers in droves – even among those who found you on the web. (Anyone listening in, Hoffman Estates?)