Showrooming — trying out products in-store and then buying them online — is becoming a major problem for local retailers in Canada, according to the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB).
CFIB surveyed 1,370 businesses across the country — 60 per cent said it’s something they have experienced while a third said it’s causing a significant impact on business.
“It’s becoming more and more prominent every year because online shopping is more accessible to everyone,” said Jonathan Alward, CFIB Prairie region director.
“I’ve been hearing about this problem from our members in the retail sector for a while now.”
That impact is being felt in Saskatchewan.
Pat Sotropa says they’ve had customers in their Regina audio store, Harry’s Hi-Fi, pull out their phones as they’re demoing equipment.
“They’ll take pictures. And you can see that they’re scrolling and they’re obviously looking to either price match or get a lower price on something,” said Sotropa, noting that often the prices online are comparable and some people will just purchase the product in-store.
Some shoppers have been brazen, she said, giving an example of one man who left the store after trying a pair of headphones. She said he later contacted her wanting to exchange headphones of the same brand and model that he had purchased elsewhere.
Not buying local has a domino effect. Alward noted the money leaves Saskatchewan and isn’t reinvested here.
“It’s not hiring people, it’s not supporting their livelihood,” he said. “It’s not donating to community groups…it’s a real significant problem.”
But not everyone thinks online shopping is the way to go.
Regina shopper Charles Siman prefers to shop local.
“I like to shop local and support local businesses. So if I can keep the money here versus buying online, I think that’s my preference,” Siman said.
However, a separate poll found 55 per cent of Canadian shoppers showroom shop. Consumers aged 18-34 are more likely than older people to do it, with three-of-four admitting to having done it.
One-in-seven said they showroom shop often.
Alward said he expects the problem could get worse.
“It’s going to be increasingly easy to access things online. You look at how much Amazon has grown in the last decade,” Alward said.
“It’s something I’m worried about for sure.”
Another local, Sukhman Kaur said she has never tried showrooming.
She likes to online shop, but has had challenges with it.
“We didn’t feel good purchasing online, so it’s good to be purchasing in the store,” Kaur said.
Like Kaur, Diane Stevenson said she doesn’t do it, but knows showrooming is happening.
“Ordering online is just taking over the world. There are so many stores closing down, even in a city the size of Regina,” Stevenson said.
Lead author of the report and CFIB director Ryan Mallough said it’s not fair to local business owners.
“You wouldn’t sit down in a restaurant just to read the menu and get some cooking tips from the chef before heading to the grocery store,” Mallough said.
“Showrooming may seem harmless, but can really hurt independent retailers, and undermine the health of local communities — especially during the make-or-break holiday season when they’re competing against big box stores and online giants.”
Alward said education is there biggest tool right now.
“We want people to know that it’s a problem and help them understand the impact it has on small local businesses,” Alward said.
Alward said it’s not just the local economy that will suffer. He said there could be social consequences if communities lose its storefronts.