If “showrooming” wasn’t part of the industry lexicon before last week, it is now, thanks to Amazon’s price check app that gives customers up to $15 in discounts to those who scan prices of products at different stores. The announcement of the Amazon December 10 promotion came days after the publishing research firm Codex Group released a study that put a figure to what booksellers have been saying for a couple of years—that a growing number of customers come into their stores, browse the titles, and then buy a print book or an e-book online. According to Codex, 28% of book buyers reported doing just that, with 34% of digital book buyers using the tactic and 24% of print readers. Codex estimated that “showrooming” led to 2.6 fewer books bought at stores by digital book readers monthly and 2.4 fewer purchases at stores by print readers.
Nook owners are the most likely to browse in store and then buy an e-book, with 43% of Nook owners reporting doing that, a figure that indicates Barnes & Noble’s strategy of using its stores to promote e-book sales is working. But with no bricks-and-mortar Kindle stores, 33% of Kindle users reported looking at titles in stores before buying an e-book, and 39% of readers who bought either an e-book or print book through Amazon had browsed in a bookstore before doing so.
One way to limit the impact of showrooming is for publishers to delay the release of e-books for a period of time, said Codex president Peter Hildick-Smith. While publishers have abandoned the concept of “windowing,” a recent BISG report said an increasing number of consumers would wait three months to buy the e-book.
Looking to take advantage of bookstores makes sense since store browsing and bookstore displays are still the top way for readers to discover books. For readers who don’t own a digital device, 26% of customers learned about the last book they bought while in a store, followed by 21% who heard about a title through a personal recommendation.
It is those sorts of percentages that had independent bookstores as well as other retailers fuming over Amazon’s price check promotion, with many seeing it as yet another move by the e-tailer to wipe out physical retailers, this time by using stores’ own inventory as a way to generate sales at their major competitor. And although last Saturday’s promotion did not include books, it did include sidelines.
Bookseller reactions ranged from a suggestion by R.J. Julia Bookstore owner Roxanne Coady that Amazon pay indie stores an affiliate fee for leads to the open letter ABA CEO Oren Teicher posted to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos that said in part, “We suppose we should be flattered that an online sales behemoth needs a Main Street retail showroom. Forgive us if we’re not.”