Strange times indeed. A few weeks ago USA Today reported on a store in Washington DC where customers can’t buy anything. That’s right! In Bonobos Guideshop the men’s clothing products are there for people to try on for size, to pick up and handle, and to generally view in real life. But if they want to buy, they need to logon to the Bonobos website to place an order for delivery to their homes (or workplace, or whatever delivery address they specify). And Bonobos are not the only ones. The USA Today piece reports that online eyewear dealer Warby Parker and Gap’s Piperlime Internet label have similarly opened ‘real world’ showroom stores for customers to try on products before ordering online. Well, just as I’m getting my head around the concept of the shop where you can’t buy anything, comes a story from the other side of the battlelines. A real-world store in Australia is charging people a ‘looking fee’ to enter their premises, with the AU$5 fee returned if the person makes a purchase. Its an attempt to stop ‘showrooming’, the practice where potential shoppers go to a real-world store to view a product (and maybe try for size), then leave and go to the Internet to search for the best price. According to a recent survey from IBM almost half of online shoppers use showrooming before making a purchase, with about a third of them going on to purchase from a Web-only retailer. Its a new twist in the ongoing battle between ecommerce and high street (or ‘bricks and mortar’) stores, and I must say I’m surprised to see that the thrill of seeking out the best price online apparently trumps the instant gratification of seeing – and touching – something you want and buying it there and then. Its like a reverse of the UK store Argos, where shoppers can’t see or touch the products but they can buy and walk out of the shop with their purchase there and then. In the Argos model (and many other real world B&M shops) there’s also an option to reserve online and collect in-store. But the Bonobos model is the opposite – view in-store, buy order and collect at home. There’s a whole lot of lessons to be learned from this one, on both sides, and it will be very interesting to see how it pans out.
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