Showrooming on the rise as online sales expand

May 15

The future of retailing is in the so-called omnichannel, seamlessly linking physical stores and customer pick-up points, with the ease and low cost of selling direct online. NRI’s latest lifestyle survey run in 2012 and published recently provides further evidence for this trend. Although more people are browsing in stores to check out products before buying, increasingly the final purchase is online.

Consumers are returning to shops to find out more about products, feeling overwhelmed with the volume of information available online. This is according to a survey by Nomura Research Institute (NRI) done in 2012 but only just released. Every three years, NRI’s Lifestyle survey asks 10,000 consumers about general trends and has tracked online shopping activities for the past 10 years.

While actually purchasing online continues to increase, with customers taking advantage of lower prices and convenient delivery, NRI says that the volume of information online makes some shopping confusing and contradictory. Consequently, consumers are increasingly researching purchases in store before making a final decision.

Online shopping varies considerably by category. For electronics, where product specs are really the main point of comparison, people look for information online. Travel packages too are mostly researched online. In contrast, for furniture, fashion and cosmetics, a visit to a shop is considered an important part of the shopping process by many consumers to get a more tactile feel of what they’re buying.

Overall, NRI’s survey suggests 70% of shoppers have a look at a product in the store first, even when they plan to buy online. Online sites are useful when consumers want lots of information, lower prices, detailed product comparisons, and simply when it was too much trouble or inconvenient to visit a store. Less than 10% said they shopped online because of user reviews, or because they didn’t like talking to shop assistants.

Stores, on the other hand, are used when potential buyers want to touch and play with products, get advice from staff and to generally check out the latest trends.

NRI claims that results from the latest survey show that browsing in stores is actually increasing, but it doesn’t offset the fact that people are still buying more online. In the same survey in 2000, only 1% of respondents used non-store channels to actually make purchases at least once a month. In 2012, the figure had jumped to 14.6%. Again, travel and electronics were common purchases, but despite preferring to browse in stores for cosmetics and furniture, almost 80% of respondents researched these items either exclusively or partially online.

Thankfully for many retailers, browsing in shops is still an important leisure activity for many Japanese, and the Internet is a long way from replacing it. At the same time, as Seven & I is saying to everyone who’ll listen, the future will be about linking the same retail stores with the actual final online purchase and making sure the customer’s money goes into the retailer’s own pockets, and not to an online-only competitor.