Tips for Beating Competition from the Internet

Sears, Roebuck and Co. and other mail-order companies were the answer to farmers’ prayers in the early 1900s, offering an easy alternative to the high-priced rural stores. Years later, the company adopted the motto “Shop at Sears and Save.” Sears prospered.

Does this sound like the Internet?

For more than a century, there’s been a healthy alternative to brick and mortar showrooms. Shopping has, in fact, matured into a national pastime. And, history shows that the majority of customers would rather purchase product from an actual living, breathing person.

The Showroom Experience

Because most decorative plumbing showrooms are not located in a high-density retail area, visiting them requires a special, focused trip. Customers have most likely spent time on the Internet prior to visiting to educate themselves and to find a showroom.

But even though customers may exude confidence from their Internet research, they have made the special showroom trip for a reason. That reason spells opportunity for showroom professionals to demonstrate the value they bring to a project and create a special bond of trust that is not available online.

Kaye Powell of Chown Hardware in Portland, OR believes, “Salespeople have a great advantage over Internet sites. Connecting with the customer, developing a relationship and explaining the benefits of one product over another are what salespeople do. Competing with a computer gives a salesperson the upper hand every time.”

When your staff first greets a client, it’s important to ask open-ended questions. This gives customers the opportunity to tell their story. The goal is to find out why they’ve come to your showroom.

Do not settle for, “I want a new bathroom.” Take the time to truly understand why that customer has finally decided to tear out walls. Ask your customers to describe what their dream bath may look like. Listen actively. Take note of specifics and start to establish a bond of trust by sharing your expertise and directing them to products that will turn their dreams into reality.

As part of establishing a relationship, ask where they learned about your showroom. Tony Carter of Carter Hardware in Beverly Hills, CA states, “This can lead to a greater understanding of the customer.”

Most customers will mention the Internet. When they do, teach your staff not to ignore this. Demeaning their research insults customers. Have customers discuss what they’ve learned online. The more you know about the customer, the easier it will be to develop a relationship that eliminates the Internet as a competitor.

Added Value

The Internet is very good at answering specific questions, but incapable of taking a person’s dreams and applying the right products in a perfect package. Entering into a focused dialogue to pinpoint and prioritize customer desires assists in establishing a lasting bond with customers.

To combat Web competition, your showroom staff needs to demonstrate that the guidance and expertise they provide are not available on the Internet. The Internet is not capable of providing recommendations needed to ensure that clients’ desired look and functionality are realized.

After research and product selections, price enters the picture. The first rule is “you get what you pay for.” At Klaff’s, we believe displaying selective decorative products and listening to clients’ desires are major components of our company’s brand. That is the extra value we and our fellow independent showrooms add, and it is responsible for our competitive advantage.

When customers purchase over the Internet, they only receive the product. The products sold in a showroom also come with:

  • The ability to determine if the product meets the client’s needs or if there are better or more cost-effective alternatives.
  • The ability to coordinate all fixtures in a bath and add accessories, many of which the customer is not aware of until it is too late.
  • The ability to stage construction and avoid costly delays and change orders.
  • The ability to provide technical assistance to help ensure form matches function.
  • The ability to train and guide installers who may not be familiar with products purchased despite having years of experience.
  • The ability to troubleshoot problems quickly and cost effectively.
  • The ability to stand behind products and warranties after construction is completed.
  • The ability to provide peace of mind that customers selected the best solutions for their project.

Of course, despite the value-added showrooms bring to the table, some customers only care about price. Depending on the circumstances, you may wish to match a competitor’s price. However, if that doesn’t make financial sense, cut your losses quickly and politely.

Imagine the reaction of a customer who says, “I can buy it cheaper online,” if you responded, “Yes, you can, however, what you are buying from a computer and what you purchase from our showroom are not one and the same.” Usually, they will ask for an explanation. This gives showroom professionals one more opportunity to explain the value-added that they offer.

If customers only care about price, encourage them to purchase on the Web, but caution them: If there are problems, they must be resolved online. If the wrong product is specified, customers must return it to a Web site. If installers are unfamiliar with installation and claim products are defective, they must deal with a Web site for technical assistance and troubleshooting. Politely make customers understand that they are replacing you and your team members with a computer.

Remember, there are still consumers who know the lowest price is not always the lowest cost.

The Internet is the 21st century’s alternative to traditional brick and mortar showrooms. It is a vast collection of information, but does not have the ability to interact with a client. That is the opportunity for a knowledgeable showroom consultant. Asking open-ended questions to uncover clients’ desires will allow your showroom to supplant the Internet as their main source of information and transform your business from a source to a trusted advisor.

The Internet is no different than any other competitor. If you create trust by actively listening, discussing and delivering, clients, professionals and homeowners will see no need to go anywhere else ­– even if many of your products are available at a lower price online.

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