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Browsers Beware: Retailers Charge for Just Looking

Tuesday, 26 Mar 2013 | 12:56 PM ET
Gilaxia | E+ | Getty Images

Just browsing? That'll cost you at some retailers.

At Vera Wang's bridal boutique in Shanghai, customers must fork over about $482 (or 3,000 yuan) for a 90-minute time slot to try on dresses, China's Global Times newspaper reports.

The store isn't alone. At a Brisbane, Australia, specialty food store, customers have to pay $5 for just looking, according to a post on Reddit.

"There has been high volume of people who use this store as a reference and then purchase goods elsewhere," the company's sign said. "These people are unaware our prices are almost the same as the other stores plus we have products simply not available anywhere else."

These fees are the latest company tactic in the fights against counterfeiting and "showrooming," a practice in which consumers test items out at a store but then buy them online in a quest for a discount.

In a press release, Vera Wang said the charge is meant to "protect the copyright of the designer" in the country, where copycat luxury-goods rings have occurred in the past.

Both companies reward shoppers who turn into buyers by refunding their browsing fees once they make a purchase. Although this policy discourages less serious shoppers, it also runs the risk of turning away potential buyers altogether.

Best Buy, one of the big-box retailers most associated with showrooming, is trying to combat the practice by extending its holiday price matching guarantee, a more conventional approach to encouraging purchases.

Recognizing that more shopping is shifting to the keyboard, some retailers, including menswear company Bonobos and eyewear maker Warby Parker, are opting out of selling items in their own stores altogether. By using their own physical locations as a spot where customers can test out products' fit, these companies are focusing on service in stores rather than merely generating in-store sales.

"We think that ecommerce is going to be the flagship store and possibly as much as half of retail for any brand," said Andy Dunn, Bonobos' founder and chief executive, on CNBC's "Squawk on the Street."

Still, the move to open brick-and-mortar branches reflects that companies haven't give up on the in-store experience completely.

"But what we've learned recently is that the offline experience of touching and feeling clothes isn't going away," he said. "People still want to try stuff on, and so for a brand like ours that's built on fit, we want to provide that."

—By CNBC.com's Katie Little; Follow on Twitter @Katie_Little_

Questions? Comments? Email us at consumernation@cnbc.com.

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