Forty-three percent of adults say they've participated in showrooming, according to a Harris Poll from November 2012. Yet, tomorrow's biggest headline isn't going to be about how e-commerce cannibalized brick-and-mortar stores. The future lies in integration and leveraging the best of each to grow revenue across the board.
Today's savviest retailers are rethinking the very fundamentals of merchandizing to transform and enhance the in-store shopping experience. They're leveraging the efficiency of online retailing and the immediacy of social media to remain relevant in a world where a cheaper version of the product may be a smartphone tap away.
Location, Location, Location
No longer is the success of the physical retail outlet just about the space itself.
"The power of e-commerce extends far beyond the keyboard and right onto the sales floor," says Terry Lundgren, CEO of Macy's.
Smart retailers aren't just using their web outposts to provide store location and hours. They're providing in-depth info about products available in-store — even floorplans to help mobile users find what they're looking for more quickly. Online sales and social media outposts provide in-store retailers with data that allows them to refine their product mix continuously.
Increasingly, retailers are turning to social media for in-store customer service and support. Best Buy, more than any other company, has felt the competitive pressure of showrooming. In response, the company has launched one of the most advanced integrations of social media and on-site support to improve the in-store experience and heighten customer loyalty. If a customer in a Best Buy store tweets a question about a product, a member of the 2,000-strong "Twelp Force" responds to help, and when necessary, connect you with someone on-site.
Retailers are also turning to social media outlets to provide insight on how to improve the in-store experience. For example, when a customer recently remarked, "I can't believe you don't carry kid's toothpaste anymore!" on the Facebook page of a top retailer I've worked with, the company knew it had a customer issue to address regarding its in-store experience.
Enhancing the Experience
The immediacy and "fun" that customers experience when a brand has an effectively managed social presence is upping the ante for the in-store experience. And yet, while social outlets have created pressure, it also creates opportunity. People who connect online ultimately want the opportunity to connect offline. The most clever stores will use their physical locations to enhance the experience achieved in social media. For example, broadcasting Twitter streams on monitors, celebrating or rewarding customers when they "check in" through Foursquare or Facebook, and even creating meetups that connect social media fans with the community that the brand and the customers have co-created online.
Smart retailers might even think about how to use extra floor space created by reduced on-site inventory to make shopping even more friendly — expanded dressing rooms, lounges and meeting areas all come to mind. Also expect to see in-store events that surprise and delight in ways that resonate with the brand including surprise celebrity visits announced over Twitter.
In the end, relationships built through social media give traditional retailers the permission and the information to deliver ever more inventive and personal in-store experiences, satisfying not just the material, but the emotional needs of customers as never before — a success strategy for any era.
— Peter Friedman is the founder and CEO of LiveWorld, a social media marketing company that provides user content services to help Fortune 500 companies.