I have always respected the work of my fellow bloggers at Good eReader, but a post I saw has me wondering what is in the water over there, right now. First, there was Mercy Pilkington’s failure to grasp the basic economics of product sales. And now, Michael Koslowski weights in by asserting that ‘showrooming’—aka, the practice of browsing in a store and then buying online—is ‘a genteel form of shoplifting.’*
Um, no. No, it’s not. Shoplifting is illegal. It is theft. Showrooming is commerce, a natural part of shopping. And in some ways, commerce is just the same as it has always been. Yes, there are more choices now for where to shop than their used to be. But the what and how of it has changed a lot less than people think. Multiple venues offer similar products for sale, and the customer makes their choice based on price, convenience and overall experience. If you want to make me shop at your store instead of at somebody else’s store, you have to offer me the experience I am looking for.
Some examples, from recent stories I’ve heard:
– A local coffee shop that never offered wifi caved and began to offer it. It turned out the owner’s philosophical aversion to it mattered less than her desire to earn profit. Customers voted with their wallets—they wanted the wifi plus coffee, not just the coffee alone, and if she was not going to provide it for them, they would go to a coffee shop that did.
– A local cookbook store, before they closed due to non-Amazon reasons (a rent increase and loss of foot traffic due to nearby condo construction), combatted showrooming by offering cooking classes and demonstrations. The classes and demos proved to be so popular that they wound up expanding into the storefront adjoining their previous store.
– A restaurant very local to us has always been known for its take-out pastry counter. The Beloved and I will often choose it for dinner if we have nothing left in the house for tomorrow’s breakfast. This pastry counter has won this restaurant numerous visits for meals we might just as well have eaten elsewhere.
All of this goes to show you that price alone is not the sole consideration. The Beloved and I rack up $5-8 per pastry counter visit. If price alone were the sole consideration, wouldn’t we be better served by just planning our grocery shopping more efficiently? Clearly, we would be. I can take or leave the breakfast pastries most of the time; I am happy with toast and peanut butter if all else fails. But the Beloved really likes a nice, fresh scone. He is willing to pay a premium to get a good one.
And I am sure, conversely, that there are many others who go there just for the restaurant part and eschew the pastry counter. My mother is one of them. I don’t think she has ever bought a pastry for breakfast in her life. Is she ‘showrooming’ by walking past that pastry counter—maybe even stopping for just a second to look and admire—without buying a thing? If she sees the big, unhealthy muffins on her way out the door and feels inspired to go home and make her own diet-friendly ones, is she committing a ‘genteel form of shoplifting’?
The problem is that too many people still seem to view books as some sort of special snowflake thing, and so they ascribe a moral outrage to things which would otherwise be just business. If a brick-and-mortar store—book or otherwise—wants me to shop there instead of somewhere else, and they truly cannot or will not compete on price alone, then they need to find some other attribute of the shopping experience in which they can compete. That’s true for books. It’s true for groceries, or art supplies or watches or computers or telephones. It’s just retail. That’s all it is.
* The actual phrase from Michael, at the end of his May 19 post, was “a gentile form of shoplifting.” But rather than gentile, he apparently meant “genteel,” if we go by the quote’s original source, author David Nicholls. The quote in the first paragraph of the current TeleRead post gives Michael the benefit of the doubt. No big deal. We all make typos. Partial screenshot below is from Michael’s post.