Best Buy Swears Shoppers Don’t Have to Bother Showrooming Anymore

With the launch of a new price-matching guarantee, electronics giant Best Buy promises "the end of showrooming".

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With the launch of a new price-matching guarantee, electronics giant Best Buy promises “the end of showrooming”—the increasingly popular practice in which shoppers scope out merchandise in a store and then buy it for less money online.

Best Buy recently announced the following:

Best Buy’s Low Price Guarantee hits online and in stores on March 3, signaling the end of “showrooming.” Best Buy will price match all local retail competitors and 19 major online competitors in all product categories and on nearly all in-stock products, whenever asked by a customer.

Brick-and-mortar-based retailers like Best Buy have been losing out on sales for years thanks to the rise of showrooming. Consumers simply got into the habit of inspecting merchandise in person in stores, before whipping out their smartphones to shop around for a better price. After using the physical store as a mere showroom, shoppers would ultimately purchase the item online, often via Amazon, the world’s largest e-retailer. Some even believe showrooming is bringing about the end of the big box store business model as we know it.

(MORE: Could Showrooming Actually Be Good for Brick-and-Mortar Retailers?)

At first, physical retailers ignored showrooming, for the most part. They said that it didn’t matter much—that in-store customer service combined with shoppers’ need for immediate gratification would win out. But then, without really admitting the power of showrooming, retailers started battling back. Target stopped selling Amazon’s Kindle, sending the message that Target would no longer play ball with a company that’s actively trying to steal away its customers. Many retailers introduced or increased the number of exclusive products it sold: If you’re the only retailer selling an item, after all, you don’t have to worry about a competitor undercutting you on price.

Leading into the 2012 holiday shopping season, the showrooming squabbles reached a new intensity. Best Buy and Target both introduced the holiday season with unprecedented new price-matching guarantees that extended to online sellers such as Amazon for the first time ever.

Earlier this year, Target made its price-matching policy permanent, and now Best Buy is doing the same. “We are going to a low-price guarantee,” a Best Buy spokesperson told Bloomberg News. “There is no doubt that this new policy ends showrooming for Best Buy customers.” In order to get a price match, Best Buy shoppers can point to a competitor’s website or brochure, either at the point of purchase or within 15 days of when the purchase is made.

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But let’s think about this: Does the new policy really end showrooming at Best Buy? Well, shoppers will no longer have much reason to use Best Buy merely as a showroom, before buying certain products elsewhere. Many states still don’t charge sales tax on purchases made via Amazon and some other online sellers, however, and some shoppers simply prefer getting items shipped (for free, of course) right to their door, rather than purchasing them in a store. Also, in the fine print to Best Buy’s new guarantee, there’s this stipulation:

The Guarantee is limited to one price match per identical item.

So shoppers who’d like to purchase, say, three cheap Blu-ray players and give them as presents still can’t do that at Best Buy. Not at the lowest price anyway. Nothing will stop these shoppers from buying as many as they like via the e-retailer that’s listing the best price, of course.

There are also many exclusions, including stipulations such as “our competitor’s Deal of the Day, daily deals, special hour sale event items and credit card offers, Clearance & More and Marketplace items, and items for sale Thanksgiving Day through the Monday after Thanksgiving.” Best Buy won’t guarantee a price match on any of the above.

What’s most noteworthy about the new price guarantees is that they seem to imply that consumers no longer have much need to shop around. It’s OK to put your guard down, we’re looking out for you: That’s the message retailers want consumers to come away with thanks to the new guarantees. Hey, we’re guaranteeing the lowest price!

(MORE: By Matching Online Prices, Are Best Buy and Target Doing Exactly What Amazon Wants?)

In reality, these price guarantees only work when consumers shop around as aggressively as ever. Shoppers must still do all of the usual legwork involved in showrooming. The onus is on them to find the lowest price. It’s just that now, they have more options as to where to get that price.