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Webrooming, showrooming, and omnichannel shopping – what’s new?

By Dr Alrence S. Halibas (*)

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Innovations and disruptions have changed how consumers shop.

In the digital post-pandemic era, acquiring and retaining omnichannel consumers (i.e., consumers who shop on various online and offline channels) has become more challenging. This is due to ever-changing consumer habits and preferences, and the complexity of integrating different channels like physical stores, websites, mobile apps, and social media apps.

In particular, our recent research shows that two opposite yet complementary behaviours have been reinforced: showrooming (search in-store, buy online) and webrooming (search online, buy in-store).

With showrooming, a consumer visits a physical brick-and-mortar store to examine and compare products, but purchases the chosen product online from a retailer offering a lower price. While showrooming is beneficial for consumers, it may be disadvantageous for retailers.

Webrooming is the opposite of showrooming in which a customer researches products online, but makes their actual purchase in a physical store.

In Vietnam, reports indicate that the omnichannel shopping trend strengthened during the pandemic, especially in the fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) sector. As Vietnamese consumers are getting used to omnichannel retail, it is increasingly becoming a new norm and a trend in the retail industry.

Going forward, retailers and marketers should implement omnichannel retailing strategy that integrates traditional and digital channels to provide a seamless shopping experience for customers.

First, they can examine customer experiences across all channels and touchpoints, and develop marketing strategies that deliver an exceptional customer experience. Retailers must adopt agility and embrace emerging technologies to meet evolving customer expectations. They can provide immersive and mobile shopping experiences using innovative technologies such as augmented/virtual reality, radio frequency identification (RFID), QR codes, in-store analytics, metaverse, and more.

This way, they can closely monitor the consumer journey and effectively manage showrooming and webrooming behaviours. For example, Alibaba’s Hema grocery stores converge offline and online retail and act as micro distribution centres or fulfilment centres. Customers can use barcodes to learn the product information. They can even pay online using Alibaba’s payment system, or offline using facial-recognition kiosks.

Another example is Nike’s Digital Retail Experience, which seamlessly combines retail store, e-commerce, and mobile customer journey. The blending of physical and digital experiences creates a more holistic and immersive customer experience. This is manifested in multi-user and multi-touch terminals for product information and online purchase options, mobile app integration to support the customer journey, interactive panel for product comparison and availability, and replica kiosks for product customisation and order.

With high hopes, the entry of high-tech retail stores in Vietnam will happen in the next few years or even sooner.

Second, retailers should consider implementing a long-term omnichannel strategy to remain relevant and avoid falling behind the competition.

According to industry experts, an omnichannel marketing strategy does not need to be difficult; it just needs to be strategic and audience-focused. The omnichannel strategy should take into account consumer-centeredness, strong supply chain and logistics network, and cross-channel collaboration.

Retailers must meet customer needs across all channels. This means offering a consistent and cohesive shopping experience using different channels, allowing consumers to choose their preferred channels for research, purchase, and pick-up.

For instance, a webroomer should have the option to purchase online without having to wait for delivery. Instead, they can pick up the items purchased from any branch store close by (i.e., click-and-collect, buy online and pickup in-store or BOPIS).

In another instance, a webroomer can return goods in the retailer’s physical store even if they were bought in the online store (i.e., buy online and return in-store or BORIS). Retailers can take advantage of this action to save a sale (by suggesting comparable products) and increase foot traffic to the physical store as well as face-to-face engagement with customers.

Moreover, with the rising popularity of social commerce – where social networking sites become platforms to sell products and services directly to consumers – retailers can strive to provide a seamless buying experience within social channels as well.

It can be expected that many businesses will continue pouring investments into omnichannel projects to meet the evolving consumer needs, preferences, and expectations. In fact, the U.S. omnichannel retail solutions market is forecasted to attain a compound annual growth rate of 13.6% from 2022 to 2030. It is safe to say that in the post-pandemic era, omnichannel retail is here to stay.

 (*) Dr Alrence S. Halibas is Senior Lecturer in Digital Marketing at The Business School, RMIT University Vietnam

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