The Death of Showrooming?

Good news for brick-and-mortar retailers everywhere—showrooming is dead!

Well, at least that's what Best Buy CEO Hubert Joly declared in a recent interview with The Wall Street Journal. In fact, the electronics retail giant is so confident that it has solved the showrooming conundrum that it is actually billing itself as the "Ultimate Holiday Showroom" in its fourth-quarter advertising. In effect, the company is daring shoppers to stop in to touch and feel products before shopping online for a better price. Of course, Best Buy is buttressing this strategy with a renewed focus on customer service and a blanket guarantee to match any price that consumers can find at other retail outlets, be they brick-and-mortar stores or Internet sellers. It should be interesting to see what the results are, post-holiday.

However, I suspect that reports of showrooming's demise are, at best, premature. All indications are that online shopping has not even come close to reaching its peak, so the idea that the battle has been won by any traditional brick-and-mortar retailer is simply not grounded in reality.

While Best Buy's price-match guarantee should help, it's important to understand that price—as important as it is—is not the only factor at play here, which brings us to service. The electronics retailer's commtiment to improving this aspect of its business sounds great, but there aren't many examples of giant national retailers that have excelled in providing a game-changing level of customer service.

So, what does this mean for pet stores? Although Best Buy's proclamation that it has conquered showrooming may be overblown, the company does serve as a good example of how retailers should approach the fight against online competition. While most small pet stores will not have the economic power to pull off blanket price-matching guarantees like Best Buy, occassionally sacrificing margins to match online pricing—on a case by case basis, of course—can be a great way to earn customer loyalty.

Ultimately, however, as we've reported in the pages of Pet Business time and again, customer service is where the battle is going to be won by the independents. The ability to offer unmatched service has proven to be a formidable weapon against competitors in the mass and grocery channels, and even big-box pet specialty chains. You can be sure that it will be invaluable again in this latest fight.