Thanks for the tip, I’ll get it on Amazon


Nothing has gutted the indies, emotionally as well as financially, as the practice known as “showrooming.” Prospective buyers come into bookshops, wander the stacks, peruse the artful displays and even — unkindest cut of all — seek the advice of staff. Then they leave and order the books they want online.

Sadly, this is all too common in many retail environments. I see it a lot on the Motorcycle Retail space – going to the local bike shop, trying on gear, then buying that same gear online. Then, to make matters worse, those are the first people to whine when their local shop shuts down and they have no place to get their bike serviced.

  • I’m guilty of doing local browsing then buying online.

    • Then I – and brick and mortar retailers – hate you.


      • LMBO.

        It rarely is intentional. I’m just not a shopper. I only go to stores when I’m bored or for a specific reason, which is when I would buy local. So typically I find it online, confirm it is what I expect locally, then finish my purchase online.

        I’m all for supporting local shops though. Unless they are overcharging me locally, I buy local. If I want it fast, I buy local.

        • “Unless they are overcharging me locally…”

          By how much? I’ll use the example of the motorcycle shop again. Shoppers will often go to the shop, try on a helmet for fit and feel and then buy online. The shop would charge $400 for the helmet. You can get it online for $250-$300. Is the shop “overcharging”?

          The problem is, the shopper doesn’t see the value in the physical store that has product that can be “tested”. Or acknowledge the store has staff, salaries, rent, electricity, etc that al has to be paid for.

          • It has to be a considerable overcharge. If it is $250 vs $400, yes…that’s $150 I save by buying it online.

            I’m all for supporting local shops. My uncle/aunt own a boat shop and I happily buy exclusively from them for our boating needs and repair/maintenance. I would do the same for another shop, non-family owned, if I found the value in them.

            In the case of electronics, no. I tried bluetooth speakers at the Microsoft Store, Best Buy, and researched through Amazon then ended up buying on Logitech. I feel 0 remorse to Microsoft or Best Buy for not buying from them. 😉

          • but they’re not “overcharging” you if they are providing you with a working showroom to test the product. they are instead charging you what it requires in order to provide such a service. and instead of completing the purchase with the showroom provider, you duck out to buy it cheaper from somebody who provided no such service, and therefore is able to offer a lower price.

            if you dont see why that isnt overcharging, you probably arent intellectually honest.

          • $150 more is wayyy more than is necessary to service one customer for less than 5-10 minutes.

            You can word it to make me sound weasely all you won’t (re: “ducking out”) but read my comments. I don’t mind paying a bit more at a local shop but $150 more is a cost you will never convince me, or many IMHO, is worth having a showroom to walk briefly through.

          • “$150 more is wayyy more than is necessary to service one customer for less than 5-10 minutes.”

            To be clear, buying a motorcycle helmet (especially the first time) is not a 5-10 minute process – not if done right. And it better be done right for a product that protects your brain.

            Every time I’ve gone helmet shipping with a new buyer, it’s been at least 30 mins and more likely 60+ mins to properly try on and figure out which one is best.

            Now, that being said, I can and will buy my next helmet online. I know what kind of helmet I want and what fits my head so I don’t need to go to a shop to try it out and buy it.

          • Actually, I’m not familiar with motorcycle helmets so I was speaking specifically to my shopping experiences and when I choose to shop online to save money. Nothing I buy takes 60+ minutes, except for vehicles.

            I can see why them providing a service for first time buyers being useful and paying a slightly higher premium. $150 still feels steep though.

          • I figured you weren’t which is why I wanted to clarify.

            As to “$150 still feels steep though” I say to the new riders I’m helping buy a helmet, “How much is your head worth?” 🙂

          • I hear that but the $150 doesn’t better protect your head. That’s like telling the buyer: “the helmet only costs $250 and there is a $150 fitting fee.”

          • Depends on the helmet. A $99 Bell Helmet cannot protect as well or as much or be as comfortable as an $800 Arai.

          • Of course but I’m referring to paying $249 for the Bell Helmet at a local shop vs $99 online. That extra “showroom fee” won’t make a Bell Helmet protect you better.

          • Ah – got it. But that’s not the way it works. a Cheap Bell helmet is ALWAYS going to be a cheap Bell helmet. 🙂

          • Hehe. I feel ya.

  • sj660

    Pro tip: look at gas stations. Sell gas as a commodity, make people pay out the ass for snacks and soda.

    • mmcfee

      I don’t see how that is relevant to book stores. No one goes to a gas station to browse the gas price (or the snacks). And no one goes to a book store because they’ll lose the ability to read if they don’t pull over soon.

      Gas is, by definition, a commodity already. But unlike a book, you can’t price it, handle it, and skim it in a shop and then buy it from Amazon. You have to buy it from a physical gas vendor.

      • I think you missed his point. His suggestion (regardless of how viable) is to sell the books at Amazon prices, make up the difference on other stuff you sell (cards, gifts, candy, etc.).

        • mmcfee

          Book stores already do that. They sell greeting cards and coffee and gift bags and fridge magnets, etc. But add those items just to help stay afloat. They can’t do that and try to match Amazon’s prices.

          • This is truth. I’ve worked in a bookstore. Fighting Amazon is impossible, at least until Amazon is forced/begins to charge sales tax. The only way to make up any difference is to sell other junk to customers that they didn’t come in to purchase or do something int he way of personal service that is seen as superior and worth any extra cost. Those two last are very subjective and extremely hard to do, especially with most customers today who, frankly, are cheapskates. (Note: this is different from “bargain hunters.” Cheapskates think everything should be essentially free, and you’re lucky they don’t just download everything from the internet — they would if they knew how.)

  • I don’t do this. I’d like to think the servicing would keep these shops alive. Sad that it isn’t enough.

    • It’s the “Walmarting” of retail. We don’t put any value in Brick and Mortar stores or their staff or their experience.

      • JDSoCal

        Wal-Mart is cheaper. Good for them, good for customers. Why prop up more expensive stores? How is that progress? You sound like Obama lamenting that iPads killed Borders.

        • no ones discussing walmart vs non. the discussion is researching in a valuable local showroom, then awarding the purchase to an online retailer who provided no such showroom service.

      • Patrick Henry,The2nd

        The problem is most of their staffs blow.

  • mmcfee

    I do try not to do this and I have a local bookstore and comics store I frequent and buy from. But I do still buy books off Amazon as well. It’s inevitable.

    • So do I. But I DON’T go to a bookstore (or motorcycle shop), check the product out and then go home and buy it online.

      I love going to a bookstore. If I see a book I like/want, I’ll buy it right then and there, not “showroom” for a “better” price.

  • obiwandreas

    I have long said that if someone wants my business, they need to offer either a better product, better service, better convenience, or something else to make them tangibly better than their competition. I wouldn’t go to a local shop just because it’s local. I might check them out first, but they have to work to keep my business.

    Having a real person who can answer my questions and help me out certainly counts as providing a better service. Even if I could get the item cheaper elsewhere, it is the expertise I am paying for, and will do so gladly.

  • macaddicted

    At our (non-bookstore) B&M we’ve taken to covering the UPC labels with our inventory price tags. It’s amazing how much this cut down show rooming, though it still happens.

    Still, it’s not always possible for a small store to compete with online. Tier structures for pricing or ridiculously low minimum advertised prices (MAP) leave little profit when trying to match online retailers. For example, a flashlight manufacturer, that is Sure to Fire your vision, has a 14% MAP, meaning we make $8.14 on a $58.14 sale. Great for the on lines, but leaves us little to pay our backend costs.

  • Curmudgeon

    I dream of an “iRetail” app that allows me to search local stores for stuff in stock, then while in the store uses a payments system built in to the Apple ID that would allow me to purchase items in a store with my iDevice.

  • Jack

    I try not to do it, I get my reviews online. If I walk into a store and their prices are reasonable then I will pay it and consider it as part of the experience.

  • JDSoCal

    Sad about buggy whips too. Welcome to creative destruction.

    • Moeskido

      No, it’s just parasitic. Nothing creative about it. Shitheaded behavior that takes advantage of someone’s effort without compensating them for it.

      • JDSoCal

        OK, so I can’t window shop anymore? If I look, I have to buy? Nonsense. B&M is dead, and I say, good riddance.

        • Moeskido

          This isn’t about window shopping.

        • window shopping is, by definition, outside the showroom. using the showroom service is not windows hopping.

          • So if you walk through a showroom and receive no help from anyone, does that count as them “providing a service” or am I free then to buy online?

  • Steve

    This article points out an obvious problem but offers no solution…as much as I dislike WalMart & what it does to the small business it’s still open for a reason…so “mom and pops” have to offer quality over quantity. I can’t buy a Trek or Cannondale bicycle at WalMart.

  • Jacob

    I buy as many books offline as online.

    I don’t feel very bright about the future of bookstores.

    Guilt or sympathy is never an economic term. Reasonable consumers chase lower prices. It’s nothing wrong.

    In my (probably laughable) opinions, bookstores will eventually become some sort of “bars”, where people spend time instead of buy & go.

    • “Reasonable consumers chase lower prices. It’s nothing wrong.”

      Agreed but that’s not the issue. The issue of the story is shoppers using the resources of a B&M store – the staff, their knowledge, their fitting rooms, their selection, etc – and then making the purchase online.

  • Mikey

    The way to combat show rooming if you are a small business is to fight fire with fire. Providing ecommerce/mcommerce is relatively inexpensive and easy these days with companies like Square. And firms like dudamobile will let you build and host a mobilized version of your website. Providing in-store wifi is a must to hold on to show roomers. And having staff armed with iPods or iPads and instant checkout can make people feel like their making online purchase and feel better for doing it.

    BestBuy and Walmart are proving that embracing show rooming can be a successful business model. Square has built in loyalty, so you compete on price with loyalty points.

    Mobility has fundamentally changed human behavior well beyond show rooming. Species, cultures and businesses that don’t adapt go away. You can still run a business being a technical luddite, but you must have technically savvy staff at a decision making level. Sorry if this sounds callous, but this isn’t new data. The last three holiday shopping seasons have shown increasingly dire warnings for retailers.

    BTW, personally, I go out of my way to shop local. I believe it’s worth a little more money (and that’s not always the case) to have the convenience of having products at my fingertips. But local businesses who are mobile friendly are my first choice.

  • franksspam

    I rarely buy books for myself in local bookstores, having switched mostly to Amazon for that long ago. However, what I have found is that I much prefer shopping for books for my daughter (she is currently 3) in the store where I can browse and read the book before buying. When I do this I do buy the books in the store.

    I do a lot of shopping on Amazon but I do that shopping starting on Amazon and do not browse in stores first. And even though I do a lot of shopping on Amazon I do still buy locally when it comes to things like tools, home improvement, and a host of other things.

  • franksspam

    And we should be clear that there are some segments of retail that are flat-out ripoffs. A prime example of this is eyeglasses. I just started wearing glasses last year and I purchased them locally from a shop that shared space with my eye doctor. They cost me over $400. I guarantee that the next pair I buy will be from Warby Parker or a similar online shop because I can get a pair of equal quality for 1/4 the price. I’d be willing to go double for the local convenience but 4x the price is outrageous.