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showrooming

noun [uncountable]

the practice of going to a conventional store to look at a product and then buying it online for a cheaper price

showroom

verb [intransitive/transitive]

showroomer

noun [countable]

'Best Buy is confident that its latest policy change will kill showrooming in its stores for good. Starting on March 3, the retailer will price match all local retail competitors, along with 19 "major online competitors" in all product categories …'

Business Insider 18th February 2013

'That's welcome news to Jon McLaughlin of Minnetonka, Minn., who was a showroomer until Best Buy started price-matching online competitors. He used to go into retailers to scout the merchandise and then go online to buy it for less.'

The Columbian 24th February 2013

As someone who belongs firmly in the digital immigrant camp, in the early years of online retailing I can remember more than one occasion on which I made a purchase in a physical, real-world shop, only to subsequently discover, much to my frustration, that I could have bought the same thing far cheaper over the Internet. Once bitten twice shy, however, and I very quickly learned to behave more like a digital native and save money by buying online. Nowadays, I usually only cross the threshold of conventional stores when I really want to examine the potential purchase in my hands, and, rather than carrying it away with me in a shiny bag, am quite likely to get an online retailer to deliver it to my doorstep some days or weeks later. I am, of course, not alone in doing so, this approach to shopping now becoming so common that we've even invented a name for the practice – this is showrooming.

showrooming … is particularly prevalent in the purchase of electronic products, where consumers may like to test before they buy

There's no doubt of course that the Internet has changed the way we shop for good. The convenience and competition afforded by online shopping is largely positive for consumers, but has sounded the death knell for many high street retailers, with people preferring to 'click' their way around the shops from the comfort of their own home rather than pound up and down the high street. However there are certain things we may want to see before we buy, because any written description or image on the web, no matter how detailed, is just no substitute for looking at the real thing. This is where showrooming kicks in. We pop down to our local bricks-and-mortar retailer who has spent precious time and money displaying products in an appealing way, and check the thing out. If satisfied, we then go home and buy said item from an online retailer, who can give us a much better deal because it doesn't have the costly overheads associated with displaying products for consumers to examine.

Showrooming, it seems, is particularly prevalent in the purchase of electronic products, where consumers may like to test before they buy. People who engage in the practice, dubbed showroomers, often use mobile phones to check out the online prices whilst physically holding the product in a conventional store. Online retail giants such as Amazon have been quick to cotton on to showrooming, even providing consumers with a free app which gives price comparison information when the product bar code is scanned with a smartphone or other hand-held device.

Background – showrooming

The term showrooming is of course a derivation of the noun showroom in its sense of 'a large room displaying things for sale'. There's also plenty of evidence for a verb to showroom, used both intransitively and transitively, e.g. 75% of shoppers showroomed before buying, They went back to the store they showroomed. Verb use of showroom forms another new example of the linguistic phenomenon known as conversion, or 'verbing'.

Another new expression emerging in the domain of online retailing is dark store. This refers to a retail unit which is not used by shoppers, but intended solely for the purpose of storing grocery goods for purchase online. Dark stores are often arranged like conventional supermarkets and manned by staff, sometimes described as pickers, employed to collect together orders and prepare them for dispatch to customers.

by Kerry Maxwell, author of Brave New Words

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This article was first published on 22nd April 2013.

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