What Retail Can Learn from the Hotel Industry about Using Technology

The challenge of "showrooming" has been met by traditional retailers with either indifference and inaction or its opposite: aggressive price matching. Best Buy and Target are examples of the latter approach. They decided in February to match any price on Amazon year round.

However this strategy lacks "depth."

Price matching alone will not successfully address showrooming; it will in fact encourage it as more smartphone shoppers check Amazon and other sources to see if in-store prices are the best they can do -- and to demand a lower price in store if they find one online. 

Signs like the one below invite someone to go to Amazon (if they weren't thinking about it already) and compare prices. 

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It may be necessary to price match in selected categories such as electronics. But price matching is not a panacea. Instead the retail industry can take a lesson from the hotel industry, which is doing some very creative things with technology. 

The New York Times ran a story today about how hotels are using technology to improve the customer experience (including personalization) and lower costs in many instances: 

Hotels around the world are using technology in new ways, with the goal of speeding up or personalizing more services for guests.

David-Michel Davies, president of the Webby Media Group, said he visited Internet companies around the world each year for the Webby Awards, which honor excellence on the Internet. He said he had found that hotels were using technology as a substitute for human hospitality.

Instead of the staff at the front desk offering advice on where to go for dinner, guests may be lent an iPad loaded with maps and suggestions for local restaurants and sightseeing. A hand-held device in the room might control the television, blinds and temperature, replacing the role of the bellman who would describe how the features in the room work when he dropped off a guest’s luggage. “Hotels are transforming service into a digital concept,” Mr. Davies said.

There are an enormous number of ways that technology, and mobile technology (apps) in particular, could improve the in-store retail experience. Personalization, notifications, offers, product information and reviews, loyalty, payments and other use cases, if creatively implemented, could make the in-store experience richer, more fun and more rewarding for shoppers.

This creative, "diversified" approach to mobile and the in-store experience holds great promise against showrooming. Retailer size and resources would affect the scope of what might be pursued -- but every brick and mortar retailer could do something more interesting and creative than simple price matching. And the hospitality industry points the way.