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The way smartphones drive commerce is a big-money issue, too. In the next three years, up to $752 billion in retail sales nationwide are expected to be mobile-influenced, although not all will involve showrooming. It could also involve personalized offers or coupons that flash on one's smartphone in-store.
And, because smartphone ownership is significantly higher among consumers who are 25 to 34 years old, their use of mobile apps while shopping will deeply inform their buying habits as they mature.
Carl concedes "it's still very early in this revolution," and different strategies need to be vetted both in stores and online, all of which are aimed at encouraging showrooming in such a way that benefits Target.
To that end, Target began offering free Wi-Fi in stores last year, and it's rolling out in-store pickup of online orders to its 1,800 stores (meaning free shipping). There's also a social media digital savings program called Cartwheel that the company built by partnering with Facebook.
And, beyond the beauty concierge service, which has been instituted in 200 stores, Target is testing a new concept called Baby 360 in the Chicago area aimed at new and expecting mothers, a sweet spot in the retailer's core demographic.
The company says this group spends 63 percent more time online researching impending purchases. Partnering with Baby Center, the company now offers more parenting-related content, product reviews and recommendations online, and store layouts have been adjusted to better suit their needs.
It's unclear how these strategies will affect Target's bottom line; and the company does not break out online or mobile sales.
But Richard Feinberg, a professor of retail management at Purdue University, said the hype surrounding showrooming is a bit overblown. "It captures our attention because it's so obvious and interesting," he said.
Consumers may respond in surveys that they showroom "because it is a strong self-image positive bias answer" when, in truth, they don't showroom. When asked a technology question, they tend to answer affirmatively about showrooming because they want to see themselves as "very hip and high-tech."
About 50 percent of consumers have a smartphone and of that amount, Feinberg estimates, only 15 percent will use it to research or make a purchase. And only 5 percent of that amount are so-called "exploiters" -- those who research while they're in stores and then purchase. (continued...)
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