Showrooming left in the dust as shoppers go online
Mission accomplished—or at least, on the right track.
According to a new study, efforts to eliminate showrooming from shoppers' behavior paid off in 2013, as a significantly smaller dollar amount was spent by shoppers who visited a store to test or try on a product, only to go online and purchase it, usually for a cheaper price.
(Read more: Retailers want to make 'showrooming' a no show)
The IBM study released Monday at the National Retail Federation convention found that showrooming, an issue that has particularly plagued brick-and-mortar retailers in recent years, is no longer a top threat to physical stores. The study included data from more than 30,000 global consumers.
Although the number of shoppers who showroomed last year ticked slightly higher—to 8 percent from 6 percent in 2012—the spending attributed to the practice was drastically lower. While nearly 50 percent of online purchases in 2012 came as a result of the practice, that number fell to 30 percent in 2013.
"It's really an interesting point here, where people are just more comfortable to go direct to online versus having to go to a store first," said Jill Puleri, IBM Retail Consulting leader.
(Read more: Without rebirth, malls face extinction: Developer)
Brick-and-mortar stores made a proactive effort to eliminate showrooming during the holidays by attempting to make their in-store experiences more unique, improving customer service and offering product giveaways to attract shoppers. But more importantly, Puleri said, traditional retailers did a better job of integrating their online and in-store offerings, with more stores showing the same prices and products across both platforms—two of shoppers' top demands.
One example of this was Best Buy, which tried to combat showrooming by embracing it. Ahead of the season, executives from the electronics chain said that it would be competitive on price with discounter Wal-Mart and online shopping mecca Amazon, in an effort to regain market share. To underline the fact that it offered the latest technologies at the lowest price, the retailer used the tagline of your "Ultimate Holiday Showroom" as a "fun way to embrace showrooming," said Amy von Walter, senior director of communications at Best Buy.
(Read more: Game on for a retooled Best Buy this holiday)
"Thanks to our Low Price Guarantee [price match], customers can shop with us with confidence that they received a great deal," von Walter said.
Although Best Buy is in its quiet period before releasing holiday sales results on Thursday, analysts have been bullish on the company's strategy to recapture market share, though it may come at the expense of margins.
As seen in a slew of same-store sales announcements last week—when more than 10 retailers lowered their earnings forecasts for either the fourth quarter or the year—brick-and-mortar stores needed all the help they could get this holiday. Intense competition, the lack of a must-have item and low traffic caused many retailers to slash prices in an effort to ring up sales, most times at the expense of margins, they said.
New information from Bankrate, released Monday, showed that 1 in 4 shoppers spent less than they expected during the holidays, while only 14 percent spent more than they expected.
What's more, according to analytics firm ShopperTrak, retail traffic fell nearly 15 percent this holiday season.
But the news isn't all bad.
(Read more: Why a 15% drop in holiday traffic didn't matter)
Despite dwindling traffic, ShopperTrak reported that in-store retail sales rose 2.7 percent this holiday, slightly higher than its predicted 2.4 percent increase. Founder Bill Martin attributed the difference to shoppers going online to research products and then visiting stores with a purpose, knowing ahead of time what they are going to buy.
This is particularly true thanks to the explosion in mobile shopping, an area that saw sales rise more than 46 percent in the fourth quarter, according to IBM data. As a result, retailers are starting to get their act together, optimizing their mobile sites and integrating location features to connect with shoppers closer to when they make their purchases, Puleri said.
Martin echoed the importance of delivering an easy shopping experience at the physical store and online.
"Retailers who deliver a seamless customer experience both in the store and across all channels will emerge ahead of the rest," Martin said.
In light of all the emphasis on online sales this holiday, Puleri emphasized that while digital sales growth is huge—comScore reported earlier in the month that desktop spending rose 10 percent this holiday—about three quarters of retail sales are still completed in store.
"There won't be a day when you and I don't walk into a mall," she said.
Among the survey's other findings:
• The percentage of consumers willing to share their location with retailers via GPS nearly doubled over 2012, to 36 percent.
• The five most important things to shoppers making purchases both in-store and online, in order, are:
¤ Price consistency across shopping channels,
¤ The ability to ship out-of-stock items directly to their home,
¤ The option to track the status of an order,
¤ Consistent product assortment across channels, and
¤ The ability to return online purchases to the store.
—By CNBC's Krystina Gustafson. Follow her on Twitter