It’s about that time of year when everyone bellows out the words: “Christmas music already?”
OK, maybe not. Nevertheless, it’s still annoying (both Christmas music and the sheer fact that it starts playing at the same time every year). But the holiday season is well underway, with Thanksgiving a mere week away, meaning retailers both large and small have put the finishing touches on their preparations for Black Friday (the unofficial start of the frenzied shopping season, although some retailers will open doors on Thanksgiving).
The holiday feast encourages shoppers to head to their favorite shopping malls, retail stores and small businesses to feed their shopping addictions in the advent of the most wonderful time of the year.
A study conducted by PriceGrabber reports that the more than 110 million smartphone users in the U.S. plan to use mobile shopping applications even more this holiday season, and that’s not all-too-welcoming news for brick-and-mortar stores. Additionally, a survey from Bronto shows that since 2011, 49 percent of the retailers that took part in the study acquired a mobile application.
Businessweek.com recently published a “Where’s Waldo?” graphic detailing the ways some stores have begun to fight back against lost sales to the web and mobile, and the budding trend known as showrooming. Showrooming, by definition, occurs when a shopper visits a store to see a product only to purchase the item from home, often from that store’s competitor for a lower price.
“Brick-and-mortar retailers are trying new ways to counter the appeal of web stores,” Business week reporter Matt Townsend wrote. “Which are expected to win 16 percent of 2012 holiday sales.”
So with the hustle and bustle already upon us, both in-stores and online, many retailers have taken necessary steps to impede their online competitors and improve the in-store shopping experience. From QR codes to price matching, here is a list of some of the ways brands like Target and Best Buy plan to do business this holiday season.
1. J.C. Penney installs tablets
Every time I head to the local mall, I happen to wander through J.C. Penney. For the past few months, I noticed a slew of changes in the stores, from the addition of various brands to the ambiance.
The chain has undergone a near-complete makeover since former Apple Inc. CEO Ron Johnson took reign a year ago, adding brand stations in-stores for lines such as IZOD and Levi’s Jeans. As an aside, J.C. Penney reported a 26-percent drop in revenue for the third quarter, marking three-straight quarterly losses.
J.C. Penney, however, is one of a handful of retailers arranging touchscreens and tablets throughout stores. As I strolled through the store, I noticed a table, a tablet station, if you will, that displayed two or three iPads available so customers can browse products (in this case, Levi’s), and thus make a purchase like they would on their mobile devices.
According to BusinessWeek, Nordstrom and Sears are pulling similar maneuvers to better familiarize customers with all of their products and offer on-the-spot tips for shopping. “The trick is to combine technology with the human touch only a well-trained salesperson can provide,” says Paul Price, CEO of Creative Realities, according to the article.
Analysis: I have a hard time believing this will have much of an impact, if any at all, on shopping behavior. How much assistance can these tablet stations even provide when you can physically get a feel for what you’re shopping for, especially jeans? Perhaps I can forgo the fitting process thanks to the iPad?
2. Target debuts QR codes
Target always seems to be on top of its game, at least marketing wise. So it’s no secret it is one of the retail giants making strides when it comes to combatting its top online competitors. In October, Target debuted QR codes in stores for the 20 hottest toys on the market this year, including the Easy Bake Ultimate Oven!
The sale initiative began on Oct. 14 to “showcase the top 20 toys on the main aisle in-stores to make finding gifts easier for time-strapped holiday shoppers,” according to a news release. The program is an obvious ploy to stop showrooming.
Furthermore, though, Target deems it as an added “convenience” so shoppers (even though they’re already in the store) can simply scan the toy using their mobile device to purchase the item directly and ship it for free anywhere in the U.S.
But why would anyone want to make a purchase online after going out of their way to visit a store in person? Yep, I don’t like waiting in lines, either. I suspect there will be plenty of similarly inventive QR code use, as Mobile Marketer reports that QR codes will be “the key driver” in marketing efforts this holiday season.
Analysis: This seems to be what Target envisioned it would be, a convenience. Parents aiming to make their holiday shopping quick and painless can put these QR codes to use, but the prices still remain the same. If there’s a will, there’s a way, to buy cheaper.
3. Retailers vow to match pricing
Earlier this month, Target also announced that it would be joining a host of other retailers in what the Wall Street Journal calls the “trendiest new holiday shopping tactic for big-box chains.” For the first time, stores like Target and Best Buy will match prices offered by some of its online rivals, including Amazon.
It is another glaring attempt in the battle to stymie the practice of showrooming. Target’s lower pricing is available through Dec. 16, but both Target’s and Best Buy’s price-matching policies come with caveats that may exacerbate one’s in-store shopping experience.
According to the Wall Street article, a staff member at Best Buy must verify the rival’s lower price with an in-store computer. Target’s shoppers need to show proof. Best Buy can even decline to match the price if it is considered too low.
Fortunately, I’ve never braved the firestorm that is Black Friday. But I could imagine things getting a little hectic if customers are lining up with carts full of items, with their mobile device in tow, hell bent on providing proof that Amazon has all of the items listed at lower prices.
PayPal, our friendly little digital wallet, recently announced through its blog that it will also offer price matching, in addition to a few other awesome perks. By using PayPal, you can almost guarantee you’re getting the lowest prices on the market.
With its price-matching offer, if the item you purchased is advertised at a lower price by any other company within 30 days of your purchase, you can receive reimbursement for the difference, regardless if you purchased the item online, in stores or on eBay! What’s more, PayPal is offering price match for airline tickets from the same carrier that drop prices within seven days.
That’s all in addition to free return shipping and extended payment options for its Bill Me Later feature.
PayPal’s price-matching policy is certainly tough to beat, however, purchases made on Thanksgiving, Black Friday or Cyber Monday are ineligible.
Analysis: For those who still like to shop at brick-and-mortar stores, this will certainly help you save some extra cash while still getting the benefits of shopping in stores. PayPal’s price-matching offer is quite enticing, especially if you already take advantage of its services. Either way, if you’re not actively seeking ways to avoid overpaying, chances are you’re going to overpay.
Tis’ the season
Despite years of neglecting the threat of E-commerce, it’s about time that a handful of retailers are making the obligatory changes to fend off their online competitors. Aside from the above-mentioned moves, some stores have opted to ditch daily deal sites such as Groupon and LivingSocial. Others are offering same-day shipping and in-store pickup for purchases made on their websites.
Some have even accepted the fact that shoppers are going to go online while in stores and have added free Wi-Fi to “promote their mobile commerce website,” according to Forbes.
How will you spend this holiday season: online, in stores or both? Tell us in the comment section below.