Pay-to-Browse: Next Big Thing in Retail?
Two retailers made headlines this week because they started charging consumers a fee for browsing, reported Salon.com.
The first example: Australian gluten-free producer Celiac Supplies charges 5 Australian dollars for browsing, deducted at the time of purchase. And in China, a recently-opened Vera Wang bridal boutique charges 3,000 yuan ($482 USD) for 90-minute browsing appointments that must be booked several weeks in advance.
So should American retailers expect this strategy to come stateside?
“I don’t think this is something we’re going to see in a meaningful way, domestically,” said Alison Jatlow Levy, a retail strategist at consulting firm Kurt Salmon. “At the end of the day, the customer is the center of the retail universe. You can’t risk losing a customer because once you do, you won’t be able to get them back.”
As for the two examples outlined in the Salon story, Levy said one works, and one does not.
The Australian food retailer--more of a mom-and-pop type shop-- experienced a big consumer backlash, thanks to social media. (In fact, the Salon item was prompted by a pretty brutal Reddit thread.) “Unfortunately it’s probably smaller mom-and-pop or boutique businesses that feel the pressure, and they’re going to start feeling distrust from the customer," added Levy.
Conversely, Vera Wang’s decision to introduce the pay-to-browse strategy in China, a market where luxury goods are a huge commodity and counterfeiting a major challenge, is an example of the strategy's best case scenario, according to Levy. She said it exploits exisiting supply and demand—a set number of appointments, a finite amount of store space, high demand for Wang's designs—and is not uncommon among service-oriented, experience-focused retailers.
What do you think?