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Jennifer Marks

Feeling the Pressure

April 1, 2013

It's not often retail issues go viral on the Internet, but last week a photo posted on Reddit by an Australian consumer went flying around the web, generating a lot of discussion about showrooming and one store's ham-handed attempt to dissuade it.

The photo depicted a sign that greets shoppers as they enter Celiac Supplies, a specialty food store in Brisbane. "As of the first of February, this store will be charging a $5 fee per person for ‘just looking.' The $5 will be deducted when good (sic) are purchased."
The placard goes on to explain there has been "a high volume of people who use this store as a reference and then purchase goods elsewhere."

I've not seen any coverage about what impact the policy has had on the store's traffic, but I suspect only the most dedicated shopper would walk into a place that administers what is essentially a cover charge for entry.

As the opportunities presented by ecommerce continue to grow, operators of brick-and-mortar stores are struggling to compete as their mobile-toting consumers wander the aisles comparison shopping. A recent study by digital tracker Placed found Bed Bath & Beyond is the retailer most vulnerable to losing a potential in-store sale to Amazon via showrooming. The same survey found consumers were most likely to engage the Amazon Price Check app while strolling through TJMaxx.

Target during the recent holiday season announced a price match policy in hopes of keeping its customers from straying to the Internet. Interestingly, the first in-store sign I saw calling out the policy was placed next to one of Target's private label apparel brands. Cute.

It seems every time you turn around another Internet retailer has sprouted up, and etailers that built their base on a single category (e.g., cookware, shoes) are now charging into home. (Did you know The Google Store carries blankets?)

How to counter? JCPenney ceo Ron Johnson doesn't get a lot of love these days, but I think his idea that stores need to offer more than just merchandise is valid. Maybe some of the celebrities who are slapping their names on merchandise should commit to some store-level face time to generate traffic. Maybe there needs to be more kids craft days and cooking demonstrations. Maybe when Ashley is standing in front of a Lacoste bedding display with her iPhone in hand, the device needs to spit out a message that says: "Hey Ashley, Macy's will give you an extra 15% discount if you buy this duvet set in this store in the next 90 minutes."

There definitely needs to be more fun in the art of the deal.