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Fred Clements: Retailers can crush 'showrooming' now

Published December 20, 2013
A blog by NBDA executive director Fred Clements

Editor's note: This blog post was written by Fred Clements, executive director of the National Bicycle Dealers Association. Clements' previous blog posts can be read on bikedealerblog.wordpress.com.

The reaction to showrooming from bicycle dealers has been strong and generally negative since it first came into existence a few years ago.

The idea that a customer would walk into a retail store, smartphone in hand, and compare prices on-site rubs a lot of people the wrong way. It's just so low.

Some choose to look the other way. Some ask phone-wielding customers to leave. Some ask that they put the phone away. But none of these responses helps the customer, and none are conducive to making a sale.

Dan Mann, president of The Mann Group, suggests a very different approach: smile and help the customer. With genuine enthusiasm, a supportive tone, and a welcoming attitude, showrooming can be the first step toward a positive business relationship, he told dealers at an NBDA seminar at Interbike.

"Don't push customers away. Instead, go toward them, create a relationship and try to sell them something" Mann suggested. "Yes, I hate showrooming, but a defensive response is not going to win us any battles. We can't let this negative attitude creep into our service industry."

That is something that can sometimes be forgotten in the battle for the future of retail: bicycle retailers are in a service industry.

"I don't advocate actions that try to force customers to buy in the way we want them to," Mann continued. "Too many retailers are asking customers with a cell phone in their hands to leave the store. That scares me. This is not the response the industry needs – and not just the retail side of the industry but the producer side and the participation aspect too."

Mann pointed out that the industry needs more people on bikes, not an industry asking them to leave the store. He suggests trying to break down that mindset that says 'These people won't help me, I don't trust them, they won't take care of me.'

"We need to be able to say 'yes we will,' even with your phone. Would you like me to hold this part while you take a picture of it? By the way, while I'm doing that, let's talk about it. Where do you ride. What part are you replacing?"

A negative reaction to showrooming has implications beyond making a single sale on a given day. It also gets in the way of establishing a relationship that can lead to future sales. Instead of showing the customer the door, invite them to participate in something the store is involved in. Mann calls this "tribe building," finding ways to bring people into a culture and a lifestyle. It moves the business relationship from simple transactions to a more personal level.

"Let's get a lot of people involved. Let's build a tribe, a culture. We've got to make our product and our culture open, everyone welcome," he said.

"When people come into your store with their phones out, we've got to be like a matador. I honestly believe a person with a phone in their hand is a little bit angry, a little bit frustrated, a little bit tired. And if we line up to do battle with them, all that does is just angers the bull.

"They're saying, 'I'm not part of your club. I'm not one of you guys. I'm doing my own thing.' Instead of telling them to get out, we've got to ask why they aren't part of the club. Come on in, this is fun, get involved with us.

"We've got to treat this with grace and poise, welcoming them. Disarm them, don't confront them. Help them, and this will get you the results you're looking for," Mann said.

The bottom line for bike stores on competing with the Internet, "If I'm not more interesting, more compelling, than his phone, then Amazon deserves the sale. Our people need to think that this is a competition, and I'm going to win, I'm going to be much smarter, better, more prepared, more trustworthy than the phone."

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