Amazon Aims to Shut Down ‘Showrooming’

First off, I’m a fan of Amazon. I can order everything from cat litter to sequined gowns, from dried blueberries to external hard drives. And I love that. So when I found out Amazon was granted a patent that prevents in-store price checking, well, let’s say there was a bit of a record scratch.

Amazon shopping memeFirst off, I’m a fan of Amazon. I can order everything from cat litter to sequined gowns, from dried blueberries to external hard drives. And I love that.

I’m a loyal Prime member, as well, and appreciate that when I’m too busy to make it to the store, I can order cat food for Apollo and have it delivered two days later.

So when I found out Amazon was granted a patent that prevents in-store price checking, well, let’s say there was a bit of a record scratch.

From The Washington Post:

Amazon was awarded a patent May 30 that could help it choke off a common issue faced by many physical stores: Customers’ use of smartphones to compare prices even as they walk around a shop. The phenomenon, often known as mobile “window shopping,” has contributed to a worrisome decline for traditional retailers.

But Amazon now has the technology to prevent that type of behavior when customers enter any of its physical stores and log onto the WiFi networks there. Titled “Physical Store Online Shopping Control,” Amazon’s patent describes a system that can identify a customer’s Internet traffic and sense when the smartphone user is trying to access a competitor’s website.

Trust me, there has been MANY a time in which I pulled out my iPhone while standing in the middle of a Target aisle, unable to find the item I’m looking for so I give up and look on Amazon. While still in Target. Why? Because I don’t want to forget that I need to pick up whatever the item is (and can’t get at Target). And yes, I’ve also done some comparison shopping, because that’s the norm nowadays.

This patent is a little scary. Sure … it’s for use in Amazon’s own brick and mortar stores, on the store Wi-Fi, so it’s not widespread — yet —  but it seems a bit hypocritical. I mean, Amazon is the company that’s benefited wildly from showrooming!

But here’s the deal: This patent is the foot in the door for more of this to occur. Who’s to say Target wouldn’t be next, keeping me from searching online for houseware items I can’t manage to find in their store?

I understand that showrooming has been a real punch in the gut for some brick and mortar retailers, but it’s the new reality. You can either adapt and evolve, or you can do shady things like block someone’s online search … causing consumers to get ticked off and go elsewhere.

Author: Melissa Ward

Melissa Ward is the managing editor for Target Marketing, and she has opinions! More importantly, she's a nerd for great copy and design, a disciple of authenticity, and really loves it when marketers get it right.

19 thoughts on “Amazon Aims to Shut Down ‘Showrooming’”

    1. Exactly! Target would have to license the product/service from Amazon; However the flip-side is that you will no longer be able to price compare while you are in “Whole Pay Check”, I mean Whole Foods and any other Amazon owned store or affiliate. How do you spell Monopolistic strategy? Obviously the Patent Office and FTC aren’t on speaking terms.

  1. Fascinating and thanks for sharing. Wonder if there are first amendment issues (access to “speech” in the form of advertising? Or restraint of trade? The lawyers will have a field day.

    1. Nope. Remember when you signed in on WiFi at your local store, and they took you to some obscure sign in page where the button to “ACCEPT” was smaller than a mouse’s gonads?

      That’s where you accepted their terms, which includes the ability to block you from using the WiFi they funded from accessing the website you’re planning to screw them with.

      Amazon has this patent because they don’t want Target or WalMart to get it, or to use it. If Target blocks your Amazon access, they will likely be violating this patent, and Amazon can sue them for losses, including a ridiculous amount of “lost sales”.

      1. Ah, understood. But can’t contracts (such as the “user agreements” we all ignore be challenged in court, especially with an argument no one can reasonably be expected to read and understand the terms?

        1. Yes, perhaps. But how would that work? If you’re in the Amazon store, and you are “blocked”, your loss (say, 10% if the item is cheaper at WalMart) won’t fund a lawsuit. (Even if you’re buying a CAR, and you could save 10% on a $60K car, that’s only $6K…not much to pay a lawyer and filing fees.)

          If you’re in another store, and Amazon doesn’t license the technology to that store, you have no damages…the damage is to the store.

          So the [non-Amazon] store has two options:

          1. Status quo, which is “Showrooming as usual” (Good for Amazon, bad for the store.)

          2. Block you, and risk violating Amazon’s patent, with a very considerable downside risk. (Good for Amazon, bad for the store.)

          1. Was thinking retail trade groups would fund the suit, through the accumulated losses all the member stores stand to suffer.

          2. Perhaps. More likely an FTC complaint, but only if they try to enforce the patent. They’d only have to do that if someone tried to violate it consciously. Since there are up to 3X punitive damages for willful violation, it’s a tough business case for a competitor to take on.

            As a patent, if no one tries to test it or violate it, there’s not much a trade group can do.

            Meanwhile, Amazon keeps anyone else from blocking showrooming, which would hurt their business case.

            The title of this article is misleading. It ought to be, “Amazon aims to shut down anyone else who wants to shut down showrooming.”

            “I’d rather have it and not need it than need it and not have it.”

  2. Marianno’s grocery store in my neighborhood may be already doing this. I’ve had no problem connecting to the Marianno’s web site via their WIFI during my last few visits. However, if I try to go anywhere else on the web (i.e., food manufacturer’s web site for nutritional/cooking info, product reviews, etc.) their WIFI is mysteriously unable to connect me. My solution? Disable my WIFI and use my phone’s LTE connection.

    1. Yes – with the pervasiveness of unlimited cell/data plans these days, why do folks rely on a store’s wifi to connect?

  3. Of late, it’s always about price. Honestly, it shouldn’t be. Price isn’t the same as value. In my business, I constantly get customers who want to bring their own parts. I don’t allow it for several reasons including the fact that if you chose to install customer supplied parts, you’re taking responsibility for said parts good or not. I don’t need the liability concerns. I also take it a step further and I don’t shop at Walmart, Amazon and the like unless I absolutely must. Do I spend a little more? Sometimes yes and sometimes no. I would rather shop locally and keep the relationship with the local merchant while boosting the local economy.

  4. As evidenced by Amazon’s acquisition of Zappos and learning from them to improve CX, I don’t think Jeff Bezos has any intention of diminishing the CX.

  5. Why do you waste your time writing about such ordinary business practices? If you don’t like the way you feel that you’re treated at a store or an insurance company or a bank, then quit going to that store or business. The free market, such as the government has allowed us, you can shop anywhere you like or want. Only a true masochist would continue shopping at a store he/she detests when there are thousands of other options.

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