EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA


November 4, 2012

A virtual retail war

Bricks-and-mortar merchants battle online competitors for holiday dollars


“If the stores don’t do more, then they are going to become antiquated,” said Marshal Cohen, chief industry analyst at NPD Group. “But that is why they are doing so many things right now to test what works, and to tell shoppers that they are in the game to play.”

Traditional retailers will have to work hard to win back long-lost customers such as Paul Johnson, once a regular at malls but who now buys “almost everything” online.

“It’s such a hassle running around to stores trying to find anything you want,” said Johnson, a 30-year-old fashion model from Los Angeles, who prowls the Internet for items on his wish list — including kitchen supplies, DVDs and cotton T-shirts.

Best Buy Co. Inc. and Target Corp. are taking direct aim at Web merchants with online price matching, partly to grab customers who now use their stores as showrooms — to check out items and then go buy them more cheaply on the Internet.

“We are taking on showrooming,” said Amy von Walter, a spokeswoman at Best Buy, which has granted salesclerks the ability to match online prices for appliances and hardware, including tablet computers and cameras, during this holiday season. “It’s really about empowering employees to be able to match the price when it makes sense and make the sale.”

Target vows to match prices with Amazon and the Web stores of Wal-Mart Stores Inc., Best Buy and Toys R Us.

“It’s instant gratification for guests,” said Dustin Hamilton, Los Angeles district manager for Target. “Instead of waiting one day or four or five days for something to come in the mail, you get it right away for the same price.”

The discounter has also added free Wi-Fi to its stores and placed QR bar codes — which can be scanned by smartphones to bring up product information — on ads so shoppers can buy the items directly from their phones.

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