Showrooming: The Battle Between Retailers and Your Wallet

I think most of us agree that smartphones improve our lives in many ways. They accommodate our busy schedules and enable us to do things on the go that wouldn’t have been possible a decade ago. But for retailers, these devices haven’t exactly been a boon.

Online shopping accounts for 8% of total retail spending, up from 2% just 12 years ago. Even though the majority of spending is still done at physical stores, retailers can’t just sit back and enjoy their success. Instead, they’re forced to develop creative ways to compete against booming online competition, which can offer better prices because of lower costs.

What is showrooming?

Retailers in all industries are facing a new challenge known as showrooming. This is when a customer walks into the store to look at an item, check the price and perhaps test it out, only to ultimately buy it elsewhere. Customers often use a price comparison app on their smartphones to help with the process (my favorite is ShopSavvy.) After scanning the bar code, you’re able to see who else is offering the product and what their price is. Often you can even order the product through the app, right there on your phone.

As you can imagine, this isn’t sitting well with retailers. Before smartphones, consumers had to rely on research they had done prior to entering the store. If they hadn’t done any research they were forced to rely on information provided by the retailer.

Retailers wake up

Smartphones have driven a transformation in the way consumers buy products. They allow us to comparison shop on the spot, giving us valuable information when and where we need it. Using a smartphone, we’re able to look up product reviews and ratings, right there in the aisle.

All of this information makes retailers nervous. They’re starting to realize that we’re becoming more savvy and they’re responding in one of two ways. Some, like Target, are asking manufacturers to come up with unique product numbers for their items so that when a customer scans the bar code it won’t come up anywhere else. They might also change the name of the product.

Other retailers, like Best Buy, claim to offer superior customer service and employee knowledge to differentiate themselves. Whichever strategy retailers use, their goal is the same: to limit comparison shopping. So how can you as the consumer fight back?

Your sword and shield

First, understand which features you need in a product. If you’re buying a window air conditioner, how many BTUs do you need? Do you want an automatic timer or a remote control? Knowing what you’re looking for allows you to look past cutesy product names and focus on the benefits of the products you are comparing.

Next, do some research ahead of time. Are there retailers that might offer a similar product, or the same product by a different name? How do online prices compare to store prices? Having a general idea of price range and availability will benefit you once you’re in the store.

Finally, if you’re not getting any results after scanning the product’s bar code, try a Google search. For example, if you’re at Finish Line looking at running shoes, type in “Finish Line” and the description of the shoe. You might find the same product listed under a different name at other retailers or online.


Using a price comparison app is one of the best ways to get a great deal. Now that retailers are at battle with us to limit our ability to comparison shop, we can’t rely on these apps alone. Add the strategies mentioned above to your arsenal as you’re searching for the best price.

Have you successfully used a smartphone app to find a better price?

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13 thoughts on “Showrooming: The Battle Between Retailers and Your Wallet

  1. If I am going to make a major purchase I will research on the internet first. Then I’ll just browse through all of the stores in my area and see who has the best price. I’ve never used an app to compare prices but it sounds like a good idea.

    • Price comparison apps definitely help, but everyone has their own ways. I also do online research to see what others are saying about brands I might be considering. This helps me narrow down my choices before I even enter the store. I use the smartphone apps as just another tool to make sure I’m getting the best price.

  2. Like Katie, I just do my price comparison and product research beforehand. These price comparison apps are making me want a smart phone though. I’m only concerned about the extra price of the phone data plan, as well as being bombarded by e-mails while I’m out and about. I wonder if any retailers themselves use these apps when setting their own prices. The problem is that almost any physical store is going to have higher overheard than an online store. So it is tough for most of them to compete.

    • That’s what so many traditional retailers are struggling with. How can they compete with online retailers who don’t have to pay rent or sales staff salaries?

      I think we’ll see a lot of changes in retail in the coming years, particularly with retailers who don’t already offer a unique selling proposition, or niche. They’ll have to adapt or vanish!

  3. I do my comparison beforehand as well. I’ve tried a few of the apps, but wasn’t very impressed with them so I just stick to doing comparison shopping before heading out.

    • A lot of the apps are still in early stages of development. Because of that, there may still be glitches from time to time. I think doing research beforehand is still a great way to make sure you’re getting the best price/quality combination.

    • Haha yeah, I’ve only recently begun to use an app while shopping. The other day my wife and I were in Target looking at some brushes for this face cleaner thing she has, and I thought the price was a little high for 2 brushes that last just a few weeks each. So I scanned the bar code and found them for about 40% less online!

  4. Pingback: 10 Routes to Bargains – SOCIAL STYLE (Comparison Shopping) « frugalistagiftguide

  5. Pingback: Friends of the Family | The Family Finances

  6. Pingback: Internet shopping – 10 Routes to Frugalista Bargains « Frugalistagifts

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