During a recent visit to a Best Buy location, while investigating the possible purchase of a super zoom camera, a longtime camera department associate suggested I visit the company website if I wanted to consider the two models about which I had asked.  Later, upon Googling the retailer, the topmost, non-paid result read as an impressive… Best Buy: Experience the Ultimate Showroom.

This phraseology, a strong statement, came as a surprise.  On a second glance, it occurred to me how pretty much since the term showrooming became popular as the description of a phenomenon rapidly rising in popularity, Best Buy had been one of the loudest voices denouncing the concept.  Corporate statements made it seem almost as if the company was trying to deny that it actually existed as a possible impediment to business.

However, my first impulse on seeing the Googled intro… Best Buy: Experience the Ultimate Showroom, was actually one of amazement.  The reason the in-store associate had suggested I visit the company website was due to the fact that according to said associate, the store does not carry the brand in which I was interested.  With no product to show me from that brand on the floor, she suggested I visit the company’s website.  To offer some context, the brand is well known and much proclaimed as an innovator in digital cameras, Panasonic.

Showrooming of course is the phenomenon involving consumers visiting a physical retail location to view and try on, or try out, products and then googling said products or visiting appropriate websites to compare prices.  The practice has angered affected retail executives since the concept became apparent and widespread.

Frustrations quickly became evident as major retailers, most notably Best Buy and Target, scrambled to fight the trend.  Their primary weapons here were commonly employed by working with manufacturers to create ‘exclusives’ or tie-ins for products with celebrities.  Unfortunately there is apparently a limit to the effectiveness of such tactics, which led to even more frustrations and useless hand-wringing.

Of course showrooming has been around in one form or another, nearly forever.  It however is only recently that the concept was recognized and the term coined, as technology made the practice easier and gave it a more immediate impact.

Long before the advent of smart phones, tablets and even laptops, shoppers would note a possible purchase in one store and compare terms from others before deciding on the most inviting offer.  Now as easy as it is to google a product, a retailer or a manufacturer, numerous apps have been created to speed up the search even more.

Sadly, after being engaged by the Best Buy googled greeting welcoming showrooming, finding the cameras in question on its website proved elusive.  The super zoom cameras I was looking for should come under a heading such as Best Buy’s category- long zoom.  When I sorted on this category under the manufacturer’s name, I was offered what appeared to be two cameras that actually were essentially the same 20X zoom camera in different colors.  The two models I was searching for were seemingly nowhere to be found.

These cameras offer longer zooms (24X and 60X), more complex technologies and are much more prominently featured in the marketplace.  They were also deservedly much more costly.  I couldn’t believe that while BB chose not to offer them in their store, they also decided not to bother with them on their website.

Then I backtracked.  Doing a general search on the site under the manufacturer’s name I was able to locate the cameras I was focusing on.  Unfortunately the price was considerably higher than those on several competitor’s websites, at least two of which represented single unit, independent retailers.

The point of a brick and mortar retailer welcoming the challenge of showrooming is that they can actively match or beat competing offers with products offered in-store.  Best Buy’s site, in this case using a third party online rather than displaying products in-store, seems a cumbersome way to approach competitive challenges.  This negative is exacerbated when popular products aren’t available at the store level to actually showroom.

To be fair, you can enter a manufacturer’s name and product ID to search the Best Buy website.  Here, of course, shoppers must know specific model numbers.   Consumers tend to search product categories to be aware of the ever expanding wave of new products and technologies that meet their expectations.

When searching the long zoom category without further qualifiers, the two aforementioned, smaller Panasonics appear, the more powerful ones of my interest do not.  Perhaps worse, cameras with as little as a 5X zoom and one with an 8.3X model costing $1,300, do appear.  These might have qualified as long or super zooms during the relatively early days of digital photography, years ago.  Aside from the two super zooms I was originally looking into, one wonders how many other prominent super zooms are not easily searchable on the Best Buy website.

At this time Best Buy clearly doesn’t offer a truly complete in-store experience.  At a time when ordinary smart phones offer intuitive texting and are loaded with apps which accelerate showrooming, Best Buy features a somewhat ill-programmed, weakly competitive website experience.  Despite the company’s encouraging, showrooming welcome on its website, Best Buy clearly does not offer the ultimate showroom experience.  Perhaps this retailer doesn’t entirely understand the nuances of showrooming and omni-channel retailing.


Update (02/11/2014):
Best Buy’s Ultimate Showroom Experience Rapidly Gets Worse

Just one business day after researching and writing Best Buy: Experience the Ultimate Showroom, I received a Google ad from one of the independent retailer/websites I had referenced in the piece.  The ad featured six super zoom cameras.  I clicked on the Panasonic model I had most considered.

When I looked this up last week on this same site, almost the entire page offering the product was specially designed to bulletin a sharp recent reduction in price.  My latest click revealed an even further, sharp reduction.

With this in mind, I just had to see what Best Buy’s site was doing to compete.  I pasted the brand and model into the site’s search function.  Here I expected to see the camera in question or perhaps an out of stock indication.  Instead I was faced with a list of 116 products.  At the top was my second choice in Panasonic ‘long zooms’, followed by a seemingly odd myriad of Panasonic products.

I couldn’t find the only camera I had specifically requested.  I sorted on price and found a nearly $7,000 7″ LCD color viewfinder at the top of the list, followed by an over $5,000 Professional 70″ LCD Monitor.  Also near the top of the list were several Toughpad Tablet PCs, ranging from over $1,500 to nearly $2,900, all from third party vendors.  Not yet a camera product.  The list ultimately did include lots of camera products but I had searched for a single specific model.

I never could find the model I had requested.  I rinsed and repeated with the same result. I repeated the cut and paste in google and was overwhelmed with results.  If indeed this popular camera is sold out or for some other reason no longer available, I would expect that situation to be placed at the top of any such ‘search-results’ page, followed by a listing of “other products in which you may be interested”.

Amazon just released an enhanced app designed to make showrooming easier.  However, here Best Buy failed against the website of a single unit store.

As of now Best Buy seems to be lacking on both sides of the showrooming equation.  True, Amazon is the master here but Best Buy is failing against relatively small independents and against itself.