March 8, 2012, 11:52 AM

Online shoppers use stores as 'showrooms' before buying items

Up to 20% of shoppers researched products in stores before purchases, a study says.

Allison Enright

Editor

Lead Photo

Up to 20% of consumers buying specific consumer electronic products last year first checked out the items inside physical stores before making purchases online, according to a new study from NPD Group Inc. that details a practice often called “showrooming.”

The findings are based on responses culled from online surveys distributed to the market research firm’s ongoing online consumer panel. The survey was distributed throughout 2011 to more than 200,000 panel participants each month.

NPD found that in 2011, 7% of consumers shopping for small kitchen electronics and 4% of consumers shopping for personal care items used bricks-and-mortar stores as a showroom to research products and then made their purchases online,

More specifically, the survey found that the following percentages of consumers researched the following products inside stores before buying those items online:

• 20% for stand mixers.

• 18% for bare floor cleaners.

• 15% for sewing machines.

•15% for electric knives.

• 13% for robotic vacuum cleaners.

• 11% for hair setters.

Consumers may still be buying the majority of these items in stores. But readily available price comparison tools, such as bar code scanners on smartphones, are raising the stakes for retailers that want to remain competitive, says Perry James, president of home and office supplies, NPD Group. “The prevalence of smartphones provides customers with the ability to do price comparisons in real time, while still in the store, increasing the challenge retailers are faced with to offer the best price,” he says.

Store retailers are making efforts to stave off showrooming in stores. Target recently asked some of its suppliers to renegotiate their agreements with the retailer so the chain can price best-selling products competitively with online-only retailers without cutting into Target’s margins. The chain also asked suppliers to make available to Target products that aren’t available from web retailers. Target Corp., No. 22 in Internet Retailer’s Top 500 Guide operates more than 1,700 stores in the United States.

Meanwhile, web-only retailers like Amazon.com Inc. (No. 1) are making it easier for consumers to instantly check online prices from their smartphones. Amazon last year released a free Price Check app and, for a limited time during the holiday season, offered consumers who used it $5 off an Amazon purchase.  

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  • People are using more coupons than they did before the recession, and 37.4% are using them online websites like "Printaponss" and coupons "to stretch a limited grocery budget out of necessity," according to 2011 Annual Consumer Survey

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