Business strategy gets a bad rap from many pundits who suggest that strategic planning is passe, and that you just have to act and adjust. Strategies are designed to achieve a goal given the environment you operate within. Act and adjust is a tactic to support a necessarily adaptive strategy, which is often required in today’s fast paced business environment. Strategic planning processes and strategies that do not adjust to this reality doom their users to a limited business life span.
For the last 18 months, retailers have tried to figure out how to deal with showrooming. (This is the concept of having the consumer go into a retail store look and feel what they might like to buy and then go online, often in the retail store itself, and buy the product for less from an online supplier such as Amazon.) While I believe such a practice is unethical and websites which promote it are also, I understand the reality that people will not pay a high premium just for the privilege of seeing it first. Zappos found a profitable alternative to this by simply encouraging their consumers to try as many shoes as they like with free shipping both ways. Funny thing, people bought more shoes than they expected to buy.
So how do brick and mortar stores deal with this effect, and even better, how do they turn it to their advantage? Best Buy may be onto an effective strategy. They suggest that shopping online, then going to a store to showroom and then going back online to buy is a lot of work. They are going to promote Best Buy stores this holiday season as the “Ultimate Holiday Showroom.” They are going to give their customers the best of all worlds. You can buy online and pick up in the store. You can go to the store and touch and feel then take it with you, or have it sent. And they will guarantee to match low prices.
Their idea is at the heart of retail: once you have them in the store they are yours to close. Showrooming drives traffic, and websites that encourage it are driving retail traffic to the brick and mortar stores. All those stores have to do is convert the traffic they are being sent. Watch how Best Buy does it this season. Strategy lessons may abound.