By now retailers are well aware that shoppers try on items in-store with a view to buying them later online. Similarly popular is the concept of showrooming whereby customers browse the shop but use their smartphones to find cheaper substitutes elsewhere.

Don’t fight the market

As mobile technology becomes increasingly central to the entire process – Deloitte Digital found that smartphones would influence 21% of sales this year – trying before buying and showrooming will only grow.

Both phenomena challenge retailers as customers identify lower price points, but the retail sector has arguably been defensive in its approach to these emerging practices rather than seeing them as an indicator of how large the market is. In other words, such consumer behaviour has been misconstrued as a function of competitive pricing when it could be better seen as components of the overall package being offered to the consumer.

Tapping trends for competitive advantage

If customers are lining your aisles only to check for better deals elsewhere, savvy retailers will see this as an opportunity to push offers to them they can use there and then, through beacons, for example, or special discounts that present themselves when shoppers sign on to the store’s wifi. Shoppers will be less inclined to secure a deal at some point in the future than to take advantage of one that is staring them in the face.

In the same spirit, some have used try-before-you-buy as a means to bolster their reputation and increase sales. ASOS has smoothed the returns process to such an extent that their customers feel that trying products does not entail any undue hassle, and for so many shoppers, there’s no buy without the try. Plus, ASOS creates the impression of better customer service, which makes customers more sticky.

Furthermore, don’t neglect the customers who try items in store simply for the reason that they want to have a good retail experience.

On the right side of the future

To be on the right side of modern purchase patterns, user experience platform UserTesting recommends the following sensible approaches: first, integrate the in-store, mobile and web experiences. Secondly, provide the option for buying online but picking up in store. Thirdly, invest in training salespeople so they are armed with the knowledge that builds trust between them and the customer. Lastly, make sure there is no chance for frustration if customers get partway to a sale on one device before tying it up on another. You can imagine the eye roll when they have to start all over again.

While embracing the new landscape is wiser than defending against it, shops have a few tricks up their sleeves to avoid being on the wrong side of try-before-you-buy. Intelligence firm AdAge points to Snapchat’s use in encouraging in-store purchases by furnishing coupons that expire soon after they are opened and so provide an incentive to shop there and then. And interactive events such as scavenger hunts that lead to discounts can be a fun and effective way to do the same.