As black Friday looms, it's a tough time for physical retailers. Sales growth is slowing. Popular smart-phone apps like RedLaser and Amazon PriceCheck let people comparison shop on the spot. And in a recent poll from Booz & Co., roughly 40% of all U.S. consumers admitted to showrooming--using brick-and-mortar stores to check out products they intend to buy cheaper online, usually with free shipping.
But now the stores are fighting back. On the heels of Walmart's and Target's decision to stop selling Amazon's Kindle readers--viewed by some analysts as a move to thwart the e-commerce titan--major U.S. retailers are launching programs to make the in-store shopping experience just as fast, cheap and efficient as shopping online (even as they're beefing up their virtual operations). "If these stores can drive foot traffic, they know they can turn patrons into buyers," explains Sucharita Mulpuru, a retail analyst at Forrester Research, noting that conversion rates for big-box retailers (90%) are significantly higher than those for websites (2%).
The timing here is crucial. Holiday shopping season--which technically stretches from Nov. 1 to Dec. 31--can account for 40% of a store's annual sales as well as provide a big boost to brand visibility. Here's how the major players are sharpening their competitive edge.