Tech & Communications

Can mobile save Qatar’s retailers from online shopping ‘showroomers’?

by  — 2 July 2013

A recent study by global market research firm TNS revealed that ‘showrooming’ - a concept where customers visit stores to test products but buy them elsewhere – especially online - has emerged as a significant threat to traditional retailers.

The emergence of ‘showrooming’ as a trend could affect the future profitability of Qatar’s retailers. One expert believes that developing instore customer engagement methods especially relying on mobile could help traditional retailers prepare for the incoming trend. (Image Arabian Eye)

Showrooming is a global phenomenon, and the role played by mobiles varies significantly across markets. The reason behind this trend has been the growth of mobile phone usage. According to the global survey one third of mobile users admitted to the practice. So how much of an issue is this for Qatar’s traditional retailers?  In markets where the first Internet introduction has been via a handset, shoppers are highly likely to use their mobile when showrooming. The TNS study suggests a 87 percent likelihood in the Middle East and North Africa. This presents retailers with the opportunity to interact with their consumers via mobile and turn browsers into buyers, said Steve Hamilton Clark, CEO of TNS MENA. A recent survey conducted by Northwestern University Qatar (NUQ) on media use in the Middle East showed that in fact around 15 percent of people in Qatar use the Internet at least once a day to get information about a product (it does not make the distinction of where they are when they access this information).

No interest in online shopping

The NUQ study also shows that only three percent of those surveyed in Qatar use the Internet to purchase goods online. This figure is important because showroomers that use their mobile phones tend to do so to compare prices online which are in most cases cheaper. The lack of interest in online retail in Qatar suggests that showrooming is not an immediate threat to the traditional retail market.

Online shopping is still in its early stages, Clark explained to The Edge, but it is likely to grow exponentially as barriers such as trust and speed of delivery for goods are addressed. The NUQ survey showed that 45 percent of those surveyed in Qatar were concerned to some extent about security online, while 21 percent claimed they did not own a bank or credit card.

Shipping products is another obstacle to the growth of online shopping in Qatar, and a barrier that will likely stave off the impacts of showrooming a little longer. “Given the variable reliability of the postal system and time for delivery, and given Qatar’s geographic size, it is often faster to just visit a store and buy on the spot,” added Clark.

Other factors

While price was one of the biggest drivers of showrooming, 16 percent of respondents said that reading reviews or checking social media in-store helped in the decision-making, and a quarter asked friends and family what they would recommend. Around 67 percent of the respondents in Qatar placed high value on interpersonal sources such as friends and family for news and entertainment information, according to the NUQ study.

The convergence of these trends should not be viewed as a threat said Matthew Froggatt, chief development officer for TNS Global. Instead he said it is an opportunity for brands that have proper customer engagement methods. “Some behaviours, such as using a mobile to conduct independent research in-store, present risks to retailers as external influences may increase a shopper’s likelihood of purchasing elsewhere, meaning that the retail outlets are left with loss-making display cabinets,” he said. However, the study also notes many positives for engagement by retailers (see Infographic). 

There is no evidence yet to suggest that showrooming is a significant trend in Qatar, said Clark, but that is only as long as online shopping does not offer a fast and reliable service. However, he said that to be proactive, in the future retailers will need to make sure they have effective online stores available to local consumers.

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