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Could Stores Really Get Away with Charging a ‘Just Looking’ Fee?




Brick and mortar store owners are frustrated by customers who use their stores as a showroom – trying out items in-store, only to buy them online from someone else. One shopkeeper in Australia decided that enough was enough and posted this sign in the window:

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First, let’s get the validity question out of the way. It could be phony or someone’s idea of an early April Fool’s joke. It was originally posted on Reddit, then was picked up by The Consumerist. That’s all I have on the origin and I don’t doubt that it’s real. I do doubt that the store owner is forcing customers to hand over a $5 bill the minute they step inside the store. That’s the only way you could enforce the rule as you can’t lock the door behind them then force them to pay in toll in order to leave.

The concept isn’t far off from one we all know and abide by – the cover charge. Many nightclubs and bars make customers pay a minimum amount to prevent them from taking up a table for hours while slowly sipping one drink. It covers their cost of running the place, paying the staff, keeping the lights on. . . so how is this any different? If you like the store, then you should be willing to pay for the privileged of shopping, right?

It’s an intriguing idea. Suppose Best Buy did this. Instead of the typical stores they have now, they strip out the merchandise and set up comfortable couches where you can sit and try an iPad for as long as you like or watch DVD trailers on a big screen TV. Would you pay $5 for that experience? What if they gave you a $5 off any Best Buy online purchase in return? Set up a coffee bar, have a play area for the kids; this could work.

Look at the beauty bar stores such as Sephora. Think they could get away with charging a nominal fee to come in and try all of the make-up options? What if a clothing store gives the services of a personal stylist if you pay a couple of bucks upfront?

What do you think? Is there any circumstance where you would be willing to pay to browse? If so, what would be your dollar limit?

I think, if we can turn shopping into entertainment, people will pay and that may be the only way to keep showrooming from destroying the small business.

  • http://www.jeffnolan.com jnolan

    The store is Celiac Supplies in the Brisbane area (if I understand Australian geography correctly). The owner of the store is on the record in an Australian press piece defending the policy.

    As far as the policy goes, it is horribly wrong on many fronts and fails to acknowledge that retail stores that compete on price alone will not survive against online competitors. Even Walmart is struggling with this and their entire business is built on always low prices. If you are losing to online as a result of people coming in your store and leaving empty handed, you are picking the wrong problem to combat with this policy.

    • http://www.facebook.com/cynthia.boris Cynthia Boris

      I agree, it’s a slap in the face to customers, but I still think there are ways you could make this concept work if you lost the attitude and promoted it as a privilege – you pay to go to the movies, you pay to go to a convention to see new technology, why not pay to play with all those tech goodies at a store?

      • http://twitter.com/unhappycracker David Scott Womack

        Why not have the store owner go after the manufacture of the products they are selling!? Hey Sony, Apple, your customer come here to see, touch and feel your product then go buy it online.. we need a better deal then what you are give to the online retailers…

  • akirkman

    What if I go in and they simply don’t have what I’m looking for – do I still have to pay a $5 fee? What a great way to drive potential customers into shopping more online.

  • http://www.facebook.com/dominick.hoffler Dominick Hoffler

    It looks like this approach is not effective.
    Margraffix.com