Showrooms are here to stay

Swift Electrical commercial director Malcolm Scott considers why showrooms will always be with us

Is there a place in the modern consumer journey for both bricks-and mortar shops and online stores?

Can the two exist side by side or is the choice as stark as saying shops and showrooms are dinosaurs destined for extinction?

The figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) for the full year of 2017 show that the internet accounted for 18% of all sales. While internet sales continue to grow faster than in-store sales, and the share of total sales taken by the internet continued to increase, it means 82% of UK retail sales last year were made in-store. And it may surprise some readers to learn that for the category of ‘household goods’ the internet share is still below 14%.

A new dynamic identified by the ONS for 2017, which reverses a trend of previous years, was the decline in ‘pure-play’ internet growth, and the rise in growth of retailers with stores who also trade online. The ONS specifically stated in their report that “physical stores are dominating online sales growth”.

The state of the retail sector and the growth of internet retailing, from the perspective of the unbiased Office for National Statistics, is somewhat different from the story being pushed by many specialist online businesses. While there is undeniable evidence of a shift towards online purchasing, that shift is not the avalanche that is often claimed, and is partly being driven by store-based businesses offering ‘click-and-collect’ services. The decision by my children to use an online portal to buy a home-delivered pizza, instead of making a phone call to the pizza store, is not a fundamental change in purchasing trends, but rather a simple move from using voice communication to keyboard communication.

The decision by a consumer to read about a product on a manufacturer’s website, instead of reading from a brochure, simply illustrates that the internet is a very simple vehicle for viewing brochures. The internet is changing things, but not as radically and fundamentally as some people would have us believe.

Showrooms are here to stay for the foreseeable future and excluding the ‘distress purchase’ and ‘simple replacement’ sectors are for the vast majority of consumers the preferred method of purchasing a fitted kitchen or kitchen-related products. In fact, most consumers enjoy shopping as a recreational pastime and as a method of interacting with other people. Most people welcome the chance to ask an expert about what is new and trendy and what will be suitable for their own homes and for their lifestyles.

Shopping is fun, thanks to the huge amount of effort, imagination and investment made by showroom retailers. Every retail shop should have a website to advertise their wares, but I for one hope that the day will never arrive when we all simply stay at home and order everything online.

Whatever type of business a consumer chooses, brand owners need to ensure that their brands are shown properly and professionally and that the consumer’s purchase journey is as pleasant as possible.

So I support any manufacturer who sets objective criteria for all retailers and ensures that only retailers who meet the highest standards, which consumers are entitled to, are able to sell their brand.

Consumer confidence is essential to everyone in the supply chain and must be cherished and protected by all of us. To a manufacturer, the brand is a very valuable commodity and it should only be handled by the most reputable retailers.

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