Target started selling Amazon’s line of Kindle e-readers two years ago. Head over to Target.com now, though, and you’ll discover a wide assortment of e-readers, but not a single Amazon Kindle for sale. Kindles are being taken off the shelves at Target’s nearly 1,800 stores as well, as the retailers‘ battles over “showrooming” and brand alliances heat up.
“Showrooming” occurs when a shopper visits a physical store to scope out merchandise in person, but then ultimately buys the items at a cheaper price—and typically, with free shipping—from an online retailer. The world’s biggest online retailer is Amazon, and it’s also assumed to be the biggest beneficiary of showrooming.
Amazon, in fact, actively encourages the practice, which is most easily done through the help of smartphone price-check apps—which allow consumers to compare prices at various retail outlets while they’re browsing the aisles of a physical store. During last year’s winter holiday shopping season, Amazon was described as “evil” and “disgraceful” for offering special discounts to shoppers who used Amazon’s Price Check app for showrooming purposes.
Retailers that are mostly focused on brick-and-mortar such as Target and Toys R Us are the ones with the most to lose due to showrooming, and Target has been one of the most aggressive in battling against the practice. In January, Target executives released a statement to its vendors announcing:
“What we aren’t willing to do is let online-only retailers use our brick-and-mortar stores as a showroom for their products and undercut our prices without making investments, as we do, to proudly display your brands.”
These words are now being matched with action. Simply put, Target’s response to showrooming is this: You undercut our prices and try to steal our customers, and we’re not going to sell your products.
Come to think of it, it’s odd that it’s taken Target so long to muster up a response to a competitor’s efforts to blatantly siphon off business. One analyst offered this apt comparison to the New York Times:
Now that retailers like Target are aware of this so-called showrooming, carrying Amazon’s Kindle is a little “like Starbucks selling Dunkin’ Donuts gift certificates,” said Michael Norris, a senior analyst for Simba Information.
Earlier this week, an internal Target memo regarding a stopped of Kindle sales was leaked to The Verge, and a Target spokesperson told the site that a vague “conflict of interest” was the reason why.
Beyond showrooming, another conflict of interest seems to be that Target is in the process of opening Apple mini-stores within 25 existing Target locations. The Apple mini-stores will be selling the full range of Apple products, including the iPad, the world’s best-selling tablet—and an obvious competitor of the Kindle. Target will also continue selling the Nook, made by another major Amazon competitor, Barnes & Noble.