“Sure!” you reply. “Going riding today?”
“No — I just want to see if a medium fits my head.”
And there it is. These types of buyers have no intention of making a purchase at your dealership that day, or any other day. They’re simply using your stock to check the fit, finish and quality so they can go home and order from an online site with some goofy name like Bart’s Bargain Bikes.
This practice of “showrooming” has been going on for as long as Internet retailers have been discounting. And even though it’s been overshadowed in recent years by “webrooming” — essentially showrooming in reverse, when consumers do their research online and then head to a brick-and-mortar store to buy — it’s still an issue at motorcycle dealerships, and it’s about time we do something about it. After all, when someone showrooms your store, he’s basically entering the dealership and proceeding to rub its expertise, service, selection and pricing in the mud.
Keith Richards said it best after the British band The Verve had a hit song in 1997 with “Bittersweet Symphony,” which sampled from a 1965 Rolling Stones song called “The Last Time.” An out-of-court settlement resulted in adding Richards and Stones’ lead vocalist Mick Jagger to the songwriting credits for “Bittersweet Symphony,” while the Stones’ label gobbled up the song’s royalties.
When Q magazine asked Richards about the settlement and suggested he should’ve been flattered that a younger band was paying homage to The Rolling Stones, the infamously boozy-sounding guitarist replied, “If The Verve can write a better song, they can keep the money.” In other words, Richards was questioning why he would be thrilled about other artists ripping him off.
Let’s say an online “shoplifter” comes into your brick-and-mortar store to use your stock and your staff to help make a decision about which product to order from the Internet. Here is what you and your employees did to enable that online shoplifter to have his way:
You ordered the product.
You paid for that product.
You paid the shipping costs for that product.
You accepted the product when it was delivered and listed it as in stock.
You displayed that product.
Don’t even get me started on what your dealership needed to accomplish in order to have a sales professional available to help that online shoplifter.
If this happens multiple times per month, which it very well still can, we’re talking about hundreds (if not thousands) of dollars in employee costs that could be much better spent helping legitimate customers.
To thwart online shoplifting, you must personally engage every customer. This is your only chance to prove to a would-be buyer why purchasing from you makes sense for him. Sometimes, these shoppers try to sneak into your store and not draw attention to themselves, because — I believe — they know what they are doing is wrong. Prosperous brick-and-mortar motorcycle dealerships, even those with an online presence, won’t flourish if showrooming goes unchecked. Once you engage someone shopping in your dealership and start a dialogue, you can inquire about where he’s done his research; most likely, the answer will be “on the Internet.” That’s your signal to turn this “showroomer” into a “webroomer.” Invite him to gather all the information he can handle online, but then come back to the store to make his purchase.
Take advantage of this opportunity to also explain the benefits of buying from a brick-and-mortar retail store like yours:
- Personalized service and real-time assistance
- Ability to physically see and touch products
- Immediate delivery of products — no holiday rush or delay
- Cost savings on shipping and other online-ordering fees
- Free advice, suggestions and learning opportunities
- Easy return and exchange policies
Offering in-store promotions and contests, hosting special events and creating customer-loyalty programs — all things you certainly won’t find at Bart’s Bargain Bikes — are more ways to turn online shoplifters into loyal customers. And then, when they come back, keep giving them reasons beyond price to shop locally. Continue to build and expand your local brand, greet all customers that walk through the door and make shopping at your store an experience that nobody else (online or otherwise) can touch.
Will you ever be able to totally stop the practice of online shoplifting? Of course not — just like you’ll never be able to stop actual shoplifting. Many people who engage in showrooming are highly motivated buyers who either have no time to engage with one of your sales professionals or are in no mood to consider changing their minds.
But if you make an effort to minimize showrooming’s impact and create opportunities to expand your customer base by reversing a showroomer’s initial objectives, you’ll feel better knowing you’ve taken action.