At eTail West: Pricing Transparency in an Omni-Channel World

I HAD THE PRIVILEGE on Feb. 27 of moderating an expert panel at the eTail West conference in Palm Springs, CA. I was accompanied by two of the industry’s bright lights: Wes Woolbright, National Pricing Director of Safeway, and Carol Spieckerman, President and CEO of newmarketbuilders.

The focus of the discussion was a presentation of a research study conducted by RetailWire.com late last year on the timely subject of Pricing Transparency. Some 284 retail and supplier executives participated. IBM was the sponsor.

The findings addressed the pervasive concerns about “showrooming,” a behavior in which shoppers examine products in a physical retail store but then seek out the lowest online price using their smartphones. They also looked at the more general issues surrounding pricing consistency for retailers who do business across multiple channels and/or geographic markets.

Panelists Wes and Carol both did a superb job, drawing from their years of professional experience to add perspective and insight to the discussion. The video runs 28 minutes, but I think it’s worth the time.

The event organizers, Worldwide Business Research, recorded and posted the YouTube presentation shown here and they have made a transcript download available.

You may also download the cited research study here.

© Copyright 2013 James Tenser

Price Transparency: An Opaque Matter?

ALMOST OVERLOOKED during the Autumn business conference-slash-election season was a nicely-done bit of research about the new price transparency.

Prepared by RetailWire.com and underwritten by IBM Smarter Commerce, the study “Pricing Transparency: Can Retailers Regain Control?” was released October 5. It was conducted in an effort to better understand the phenomenon known as “show-rooming,” where shoppers use apps on their mobile phones to check merchandise prices while shopping in-store.

The study authors define “pricing transparency” as “The ability to learn the relative price positions of a particular item across competitive retailers.”  The trend had some folks pretty nervous around mid-year, especially retailers who specialize in high-consideration purchases, like consumer electronics.

The findings indicated that Price Transparency falls mid-level on the continuum of general retailer concerns – below the economy, competition and consumer behavior. Considered among pricing practices, however,  respondents did worry about consumer price sensitivity in general (ranked as #1 concern by 35%) and transparency in particular (ranked #1 by 21%).

Increased price sensitivity seems to be an enduring consequence of the recent protracted economic downturn. Many shoppers have re-evaluated their purchasing behaviors. Smart phone apps both enable and reinforce these behavioral changes.

Retailers have some effective defenses available beyond absolute lowest prices. Most are related to enabling shopper success in other dimensions. Superior, relevant assortment, exclusive items, and excellent item availability all can have a positive influence here, the findings suggest.

The best practice formula remains somewhat murky in the brave new world of transparent prices, but this research begins to make matters clearer. An Executive Summary of the “Pricing Transparency: Can Retailers Regain Control?” study, can be downloaded at: http://www.retailwire.com/page/10133/.

© Copyright 2012 James Tenser
(This article was commissioned by IBM, which is granted the right of republication. All other rights reserved.)

Price Image in a Transparent World

ONE OF THE SIDE EFFECTS of the “showrooming” panic which seems to grip some of America’s big box retailers has been a flood of learned and not-so-learned opinions from learned and not-so-learned analysts and observers.

Showrooming anxiety emerged during the 2011 holiday selling season, when chains like Target and Best Buy were revealed as victims. Shoppers were inspecting and comparing merchandise in their stores, then using mobile apps to find and order the desired items at lower prices from places like Amazon.com and Buy.com. The story had a second surge in media coverage during April, when Best Buy reported soft sales and the departure of its CEO Brian Dunn. There are too many articles to count about this. How important is it, really?

The Pew Internet & American Life Project reported Jan. 30 that about one fourth of shoppers had used a smart phone at least once to check a price in a store during the last holiday period. The release did not specify which types of products were checked most. I’d bet a month of sales that the skew was heavily toward high-consideration purchases like TVs and major appliances.

Smartphone by Store Nielsen recently released findings that suggest there is indeed a significant variationin impact of mobile device use across retail channels. Nearly three fourths of respondents said they used a smartphone to check prices on a consumer electronic item, while more than half said they had scanned a code with their phone in a CE store. This behavior was much less prevalent in most other product categories – but not zero.

The New Transparency
Clearly there is much more we need to understand about this shopper behavior complex not only about how shoppers are altering their habits around certain purchases, but also regarding what brands and retailers should do about it.

To that end, DemandTec, an IBM Company, is now sponsoring a RetailWire survey with specific focus on how retail practitioners think brick ‘n mortar retailers should combat showrooming.This is a worthy undertaking with potential to help surface superior thinking about the new era of price transparency:

We’ll interpret findings from this study here later this summer.

Absent investigations like these, showrooming may remain a buzzword excuse used by unimaginative retailers to explain away their mediocre performance in the face of increasing price transparency. It’s already a hot-button headline word for the herd of analysts and reporters who interpret consumer behavior based on instinct rather then empirical analysis.

I’m concerned that retailers who focus too narrowly on defeating showrooming are at risk of actually defeating their own shoppers. I propose an alternative: Focus on helping them get the best deal possible from your bricks or clicks.

It could be that showrooming is not all bad, if we pay systematic attention. It could be just the reality check you need on your price image that could enable early corrective action.

Retailers collect slotting, display, and promotional allowances from manufacturers in exchange for putting products on their shelves. In some sectors, the net profits from these activities exceed the net profits from sale of goods. A lost sale, while unfortunate, is not a fatal occurrence. And manufacturers may still have powerful incentives to pay allowances to physical retailers who put their products on display even if some resulting purchases take place online.

© Copyright 2012 James Tenser

(This article was commissioned by IBM which is granted the right of republication. All other rights reserved.)
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