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the practice of looking at a product online before going to a conventional store to buy it
'Webrooming: the new world of online shopping … It has become common for customers to research items at home and then buy them at – or have them shipped to – a local shop.'Guardian 22nd April 2016
'But 69 per cent of Americans webroomed – browsing Amazon and then picking up their purchases at a big box store like Wal-Mart or Best Buy.'National Deseret News 7th February 2014
'46% of webroomers said they like to see an item before making a purchase.'Econsultancy 16th May 2014
So here we are again in December – the month of short days, chilly temperatures, fairy lights, and less than 30 shopping days to Christmas. But for the 21st century consumer, the fast-approaching deadline for sourcing those all-important gifts is no longer associated with elbowing through crowds of frenzied festive shoppers. The web has done away with all that, and now we can sit in the comfort of our own home and get the job done whilst nursing a cuppa, clicking away with gay abandon whilst delivery teams scurry about in all weathers bringing packages to front doors across the country … But hang on, is that right? Though many see this as the ideal, stress-free way to shop, paradoxically it seems there's a growing proportion of us who check out our purchases on the web but then throw on our coats, go to the High Street and complete the transaction the old way. This increasingly popular pattern of behaviour is known as webrooming.
consumers are … just as likely to research a product online with the aim of later popping into a physical store to complete the purchase
For some years now, bricks-and-mortar retailers have had to contend with the irritating trend of customers coming into their stores, carefully examining goods and then whipping out their smartphones to check the online price, only to then toddle off home to buy the product on the internet more cheaply. This practice is so common that we've now got a name for it – showrooming. More recently however it seems that consumers are beginning to turn this habit on its head and, instead, are just as likely to research a product online with the aim of later popping into a physical store to complete the purchase. Since it's essentially a reversal of the former process, the latter is sometimes known as reverse showrooming, though is more commonly dubbed webrooming.
So why is it that in today's web-oriented world consumers have resumed the practice of going to the goods, rather than the goods going to them? Of course the main motivation is the same one that underpins showrooming, the opportunity to see a product in the flesh before committing to a purchase. But webrooming offers other advantages too, such as avoiding shipping costs, more straightforward exchanges or returns, and the chance to get your hands on the product there and then, no need to wait for delivery.
Just as bricks-and-mortar retailers had to adapt in the face of online competition, the webrooming trend has in turn forced online retailers to fight a little harder, introducing incentives like free shipping, simpler returns, and small discounts to compensate for the wait.
Of course both shopping methods have their appeal, and in fact evidence suggests that people who engage in showrooming are just as likely to do a spot of webrooming, seamlessly pinging between online and physical stores to research and shop wherever is most convenient to them – kerching!
The term webrooming first appeared in late 2013 as a blend of web and showrooming. Mirroring the pattern of showrooming, it also appears as a verb, webroom, and a corresponding noun webroomer for people who shop in this way.
If the thought of either webrooming or showrooming fills you with horror this Christmas, then how about cutting your losses and joining the ranks of the grab-and-goers – everyone likes a box of chocolates! And if all else fails, you could always turn out the cupboards and do a little regifting – now where on earth did you put that delightful (substitute unwanted gift of your choice) that so-and-so gave you last year …?
Read last month's BuzzWord. liquid biopsy.
This article was first published on 6th December 2016.
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