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Adele Ferguson

May 19, 2012

"Showrooming" ... a new craze allowing shoppers to compare prices by scanning barcodes. “Showrooming” … a new craze allowing shoppers to compare prices by scanning barcodes. Photo: Joe Armao

IMAGINE walking into a department store, trying on a pair of shoes or moisturiser, then pointing your mobile phone at the barcode to get a list of real time pricing information from competitors offering the same pair of shoes or facial cream a few dollars cheaper just a few doors away.

It is a phenomenon known as ”showrooming” and it is causing headaches for traditional retailers in the US, who are already under siege from the online price discounting that has wreaked havoc with their business models. For customers, the mobile commerce apps give them even greater power to compare prices while they are shopping.

In Australia, a few retailers have started experimenting with mobile apps but they have a long way to go to catch up to US retailers, says Paul Budde, a telecom consultant at BuddeComm.

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Mr Budde estimates smartphones have more than 50 per cent penetration, which means it is only a matter of time before the apps are offered in Australia.

Woolworths was the first big retailer to launch an app last August, with limited offerings, which included the ability for customers to scan a product’s barcode with their smartphone, add it to their shopping list and then order and pay for their groceries, which are home delivered.

Big W went a step further and launched a mobile app in November, with a feature enabling customers to scan a product in any competitor’s store and get the comparable price at Big W. In the next few weeks, it plans to expand the price comparison to over 60,000 products and offer detailed product information on more than 20,000 items.

A spokeswoman for Big W, Clare Buchanan, said the upgrades will connect to online shopping to enable customers to compare prices as well as buy instantly from Big W for home delivery or layby.

”It will also give customers tracking information about the progress of their order and SMS them when it’s about to be delivered – this feature alone is anticipated to reduce call centre volumes by about 25 per cent,” she said.

Sportsgirl is another early adopter of mobile commerce. The group’s strategic brand manager, Prue Thomas, said the decision to introduce a mobile app was a no brainer and it was growing faster than website sales.

”Our girls are on the phones 24/7 and we should be too. They can purchase as much as they want from the mobile. If they are in a store that doesn’t have the product, they can use the mobile to order it,” she said.

Ms Thomas said Sportsgirl sees the mobile not as a threat but an opportunity.

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