Fact or fiction: is showrooming a major threat to in-store retail?

According to the May 2013 Pew Internet Project, 91% of American adults now own cell phones, with 55% considered to be smartphones.  Just two years ago, only 27% of American adults owned smartphones.  Alongside smartphone adoption, smartphone usage has also increased, with 41% of smartphone owners claiming to use their smartphones 2 or more hours per day.  How has this increase affected retailers?

It’s seems most brick-and-mortar retailers fear smartphone use, thinking it will lead to increased showrooming (i.e. using the store to view/try the product with the intention of purchasing the item online).  And with 58% of smartphone owners using their mobile devices in-store or on the way to the store, showrooming seems like a very real possibility.  However, two recent studies (one by Maximiser and another by Aimia in conjunction with the Columbia Business School) show that showrooming is not quite the threat it’s made out to be.

The good news for brick-and-mortar retailers is that only 6% of customers have a premeditated plan to showroom and purchase online.  Both studies found that mobile devices can complement the in-store experience, with most customers saying they are more likely to purchase in-store if their mobile device can help them find online reviews, trusted advice, or additional product information.

Instead of fearing smartphone usage in their stores, brick-and-mortar retailers should embrace these mobile phone shoppers by providing them with the information they are seeking in order to complete their purchase. Now is the time for smart retailers to adapt to this evolution in consumer behavior, not try to thwart smartphone use in-store or give them apps that just serve up their website in-store.

Smartphones can do a whole lot more than just check prices and pull up webpages. They can use geospacial data to give customers proximity information about items in the store. They can be used to tap into the social graph to see what’s popular within a specific retail environment. They can be used as a communication platform for brands to convey more of their brand story than is possible on a simple swing tag or banner.

Ubiquitous use of smartphones in-store is really just the beginning of customers pushing for a more engaging, interactive and personal experience when they shop. Retailers who lean into in-store smartphone use will be the ones who reap the rewards that come with a true omnichannel shopping experience.