The Retail Value Of Time

Back in 2012, the fourth blog post I ever wrote asked a question that was urgently relevant for retailers and mobile marketers at that time: is showrooming such a threat? (“Showrooming” describes the act of comparing online prices while in brick and mortar retail stores in an effort to get the best bargain.)

Three years have passed since this published, and we don’t hear much about the phenomenon any more. Turns out that even more than showrooming, consumers engage in “reverse showrooming” or “webrooming,” i.e. they use their phones to research products and then go to a store to buy them.

The engine behind both showrooming and webrooming/reverse showrooming is the same: customers placing a value on their time. Instant gratification, or what we might call pick-up gratification for people who research online and then hop in a car to go buy, has value. Consumers who order online expect to pay less because they are willing to trade off immediacy for lower prices. For certain items, immediacy probably outweighs convenience, as well.

Understanding the value of immediacy and making it more transparent to the customer is the next logical step in the way retailers and consumers think about pricing.

Imagine, for example, going to Target and seeing two prices posted on a set of bed linens: one price for the privilege of walking out the door knowing you can sleep on them that every evening, and a lower price, inclusive of shipping, if you order it from Target.com and get it 3-7 business days later.

This would create more transparency around the value of time. Both consumers and retailers would benefit as a result.

  • Consumers would be spared the effort of either showrooming or webrooming.

  • Retailers would be less likely to lose a sale to a competitor.

There’s another pool of potential beneficiaries: burgeoning same-day delivery services. You may have read about concierge companies that describe themselves as the “Uber of….,” e.g. “We’re the Uber of the dry cleaning business” (e.g. Washio) or “We’re the Uber for pizza” (e.g. Push for Pizza). By placing a price on the value of walking out the door with the item in hand, retailers would help create a market for a service that combines immediacy (“Get it today!”) with convenience (“Never have to leave your home or office!”).

Amazon offers same-day delivery services via Prime Now. It enables Prime members in select cities to purchase items in limited categories, e.g. groceries, and Amazon will offer the “Uber of” home delivery service to ensure you get the item in an hour or less for a flat fee of $7.99 per order. I see this as an effort to capture value even when Amazon loses a customer who webrooms/reverse showrooms, as well as to create a market traditional retail hasn’t entered yet.

I wouldn’t expect Amazon’s lead to last. At least some major retailers are likely to follow Amazon into this market so they can capture this third tier of customer value, those tiers being:

  1. Order online and have it delivered later (lowest total price)

  2. Buy in-store and pick it up yourself (mid-range total price)

  3. Order online and have it delivered later today (highest total price)

The first to start showing their customers the time component of pricing will have an advantage in the pursuit of expanding its vertical coverage to include the retail value of time.

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