- Tech & Gadgets
- BRW. lounge
Published 28 March 2013 07:44, Updated 02 April 2013 07:03
In the opening scene of Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Holly Golightly (Audrey Hepburn) takes a taxi to Tiffany & Co, eats a pastry and drinks coffee while looking in the window, and then goes home.
If Breakfast at Tiffany’s were set in 2013, the Audrey Hepburn character might pick out a necklace at Tiffany & Co and then go online to order a cheap knockoff from China.
But what if Tiffany & Co took down its window display and charged a browsing fee?
Allowing customers the freedom to browse is a time-honoured tenet of customer service and the theory is that it converts to sales.
In times gone by, it did – at least enough of the time to keep the business afloat. Even in Breakfast at Tiffany’s, while the main characters couldn’t afford the jewellery, their loyalty to the store made it the go-to choice when Hepburn’s love interest got the ring from a box of Cracker Jack engraved.
But in the modern era that’s not a given, and it must be galling for shops when people treat them as a showroom and then order the goods online.
If shops had a dollar for every customer who is “just looking”, there would still be a healthy retail industry in Australia.
But while the idea of charging a fee might be tempting, most shop keepers are smart enough to realise they wouldn’t get away with it.
Not all, it seems. Business Insider is reporting that a Brisbane-based speciality food store is charging a $5 fee for “just looking” – redeemable for store credit if you actually buy something.
The sign in the door, originally posted to Reddit, says:
Photo of sign on door of specialty food store in Brisbane.Reddit
“As of the first of February, this store will be charging people a $5 fee per person for “just looking.”
“The $5 fee will be deducted when goods are purchased.
“Why has this come about?
“There has been high volume of people who use this store as a reference and then purchase goods elsewhere. These people are unaware our prices are almost the same as the other stores plus we have products simply not available anywhere else.
“This policy is line with many other clothing, shoe and electronic stores who are also facing the same issue.
BRW is not aware of a groundswell of “clothing, shoe and electronic stores” charging fees just to walk through the door, though we’ve reported previously on ski retailer Inski charging a fee to try on ski boots.
Inski in York St, Sydney introduced the policy in 2010 after finding that potential customers were using the store to get boots fitted and then buying them online. BRW confirmed the $50 fee remains in place and it comes off the final price of the boots.
“Showrooming” was a particular problem for Inski since fitting ski boots is time consuming and takes specialised skills. In busy times, sales consultants found it difficult to help everyone who came in the door.
That’s not really the case for letting someone browse in a delicatessen where a purchase is much more likely to be spontaneous and usually requires less specialised assistance. It’s hard to imagine that the $5 browsing fee will go over well with the public – either the fee, or the store, will be short-lived.
There are many more creative ways shops can attract customers through the door and get them to spend once they’re there. The overheads of a bricks-and-mortar store are higher than for a pure-play e-commerce site, but having that physical space brings advantages too. That’s why some online retailers are ditching the “pure-play” label and opening stores to complement their e-commerce business – Kiddicare.com and Screwfix Direct in Britain and Bonobos in the US are some recent examples mentioned in an article in The Economist this week.
So without further ado, here are some ways to get the most out of a physical store.
Hold an event, such as a cooking demonstration with a celebrity chef, a fashion show, or an author reading. Charge entry, or don’t, but give attendees credit to spend in the store at the time.
Reward customers who check-in to your store using a location-based check-in service such as Foursquare or Facebook Places. They are helping to market you online and also giving you valuable data about who they are both online and offline.
A store credit card is not realistic for smaller companies, but loyalty schemes are accessible to all. It doesn’t need to be another piece of plastic, there are mobile phone apps that do the job just as well. Good rewards do drive loyalty and it also gives the retailer better data about who their customers are and how they behave.
Give up some valuable floor space for customer seating and provide free Wi-Fi. The longer people linger, the more likely they’ll buy something. The free Wi-Fi is also a good way to capture people’s email addresses for marketing purposes – as David Jones is trialling with its “next-generation” store in Highpoint, Victoria. I’ve gone to book stores for the cafes and department stores for the well-equipped parents’ rooms when my twins were babies and more often than not, I bought something too.
Don’t make customers search for a sales assistant or queue up at the till. Unless it’s Christmas or clearance season, people will just walk out (I know, I’ve done it). There are loads of ways to make it easier and faster for people to pay and it applies to small retailers as much as large. Use cloud-based point-of-sales systems to allow shop assistants to complete transactions on the shop floor, give them better visibility of inventory and capture transaction data. Check out the tablet and smartphone payment systems from the likes of the Commonwealth Bank, or Visa payWave that lets customers simply tap to pay with a debit card at a greatly reduced transaction cost for the retailer.
Get the visual merchandising right in the front of the store. Get your back-end logistics right so you don’t have to carry too much stock.
If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em. In 2013, with the low cost of cloud computing, there is no reason why a retailer of any size can’t be online as well as on the main street. Then turn the fact that you’re “omni-channel” to your advantage, offer “click and collect” so customers can order online and pick the items up in store and let customers order online and return in store. The one thing online retailers can’t offer is instant gratification, even though services like “Want It Now” help narrow that gap for local operators.
Have I missed anything out? Would you pay a browsing fee? What about a fee to fit ski boots? Let me know in the comments.