Sydney Morning Herald

Showrooming - another nail in the retail coffin?

Do you shop online while standing in a store?

"Showrooming" is one of those terms that someone finally came up with to describe something that we've all been doing for years -- checking out products in bricks and mortar stores before going online to find the best price. These days you'll even find smartphone apps such as RedLaser which let you scan the barcode and quickly search for online deals.

Some definitions of showrooming actually involve purchasing items online while you're still standing in the store. I've certainly used my smartphone to compare prices while browsing in a shop, but I don't think I've gone as far as making a purchase online while still standing there. That's probably because I tend to hold off on making the actual purchase, to compensate for my somewhat compulsive and obsessive nature. I consider a trip to the shops more of a fact-finding mission. More often than not it's followed by some extra research and I decide that I actually want something else -- if I'd sealed the deal while standing in the shop I would have regretted it later.

Obviously many people are shopping on their phones, with a 2011 survey revealing that Australians spent $155 million online via their mobile, according to founder Adrian Mullan. He says Australians can save up to 70 per cent on their Christmas shopping by showrooming, although his figures are against US online prices and don't seem to allow for transaction fees, conversion rates and postage. It's important to read the fine print before importing stuff from overseas. It's also hard to weigh these up all these hidden costs using a smartphone, which is another reason why I prefer to wait until I'm back home with a full desktop browser.

Of course showrooming makes a lot of sense for shoppers -- I always recommend it to people in the market for a new notebook. Find a shop with a row on notebooks on display and then test out the various keyboards and trackpads. From here create a shortlist, then go away and do some more research online. Once you've made your decision then you can shop around for the best price, which might be in the store you first visited, another physical store or online.

Sometimes I'm prepared to pay extra to buy something in a store if I'm relying on decent customer service for pre- and post-sales support. When the sales assistant has no understanding of what they're selling I'm less inclined to give them my business.

Of course showrooming can work both ways -- occasionally I'll do my research online and then drive to the shops to buy something. Sometimes the postage costs are so high that they negate the price savings from shopping online. Other times I'm prepared to pay a little more if it means I can get my hands on it now rather than wait for delivery. Depending on what you're buying you'll often find bricks and mortar shops can come close enough to online pricing to make it worth leaving the house.

Are you a showroomer? When does it make sense to shop online and when is it best to hand over your money in a physical store?