Showrooming: Does it Affect the Paper vs PDF Debate?


Several month ago I wrote a lengthy piece in answer to a question we field on a regular basis from our customers, that being…

“Why don’t you offer your pattern in a downloadable format?” (such as a pdf).

In that post, (which you can access by clicking here), I explained our business model and point of view about this issue at length and in turn it generated quite a bit of discussion via the comments section (which I thoroughly enjoyed I might add). And regardless which side of the fence you are, I’ve found that the chances are good that you feel strongly about your point of view. Our stance (which is summarized below in a nutshell) is the same today as it was a year ago when that post was published.

Our B2B relationships are VERY important to us, comprising over 35% of our annual gross income. We’ve worked hard for years to establish, maintain and further these associations. We advertise in national wholesale magazines, and have maintained a consistent presence at Quilt Market since 2008 and the result has been that MANY wholesalers now choose to purchase product directly from us because of the afore-mentioned personal connection. If we were to start offering our handbag patterns by pdf download, it could very easily disrupt this balance. Additionally, our notions and zippers are now accounting for over half of our annual sales, and since there’s an undeniable symbiotic relationship between our zipper & notions sales and the sale of our patterns (both on our website and in retail stores), a drop in pattern sales to retail stores and distributors would most likely be followed by a comparable sales decrease in zippers and notions. For these reasons (and others) will not be marketing our patterns in pdf format now or at any time in the foreseeable future.

But even though our stance on this subject is essentially unchanged, there’s been something that’s changed about the conversation, and it revolves around this word…

(cartoon by


Showrooming is defined by Wikipedia as the practice of examining merchandise in a traditional brick and mortar retail store or other offline setting, and then buying it online. (primarily because online stores often offer lower prices than their brick and mortar counterparts because they do not have the same overhead costs AND because there’s no sales tax or shipping added on).

(cartoon by

I first heard the term “showrooming” last Fall at Quilt Market in Houston. A new store owner came into our booth interested in buying a few copies of our new pattern, The Wrapsody, but with an unusual contingency. This buyer wanted assurance that we weren’t selling a downloadable version of this pattern on our website. I wasn’t and told her so, but she added that she’d be checking my website that night, and as long as this was true she’d return tomorrow to make her purchase. 

And sure enough she did in fact return and placed a nice order, at which time I asked her why the big concern over the pdf’s and this is what she said…Evidently she’d had the same problem with the last 2 patterns she’d bought.  A customer came in, asked to see the new pattern, opened it and looked it over. She even asked the owner to help her choose suitable fabric carefully noting the name of every product, but then inexplicably announced that she’d be downloading the pattern and purchasing the fabric at an online discount store. And THEN… a few weeks later, a similar incident occurred with a 2nd customer.

WOW! I couldn’t blame her for being upset!

It must have been incredibly discouraging for this merchant, but I didn’t think too much about it after returning home… that is until a few weeks ago at the Spring Market in Minneapolis when TWO  more retailers relayed similar stories to me. And here’s the deal,  I’ve since learned that this behavior has been quite common for some time, especially in electronic stores like Best Buy and Target. Some experts are now saying that showrooming is one of the biggest threats to traditional retail today.

So…. what should we make of all this?

Well… I’ll go first! (don’t worry,  you’ll get your chance!)
I guess it really shouldn’t surprise me that people are engaging in showrooming. There will always be that segment of our culture to whom price is the only thing that matters, BUT I am surprised to find out how pervasive this behavior seems to have become and quite honestly shocked that anyone would be so brazen (and yes…I’ll say it, CRUEL) to announce their intentions to a store owner who had gone to such lengths to help them. In what universe would this type of conduct be considered acceptable? So in closing I’d like to pose the following questions……

1) Experts say that the best way for store owners to combat showrooming is by delivering outstanding customer service, but do you think this will really be enough to convince a showroomer to pull out their wallet and buy from them instead of going online and purchasing the same thing at a lower price?

2) How long can we expect local quilt stores to survive if owners have to deal with blatant behaviors like showrooming? Isn’t it worth paying a couple of extra bucks for a product in order to be able to enjoy the convenience and benefits of a full-service store?

3) and looking down the road, what impact might showrooming have on pattern designers who sell both paper AND pdf downloadable patterns?

4) And what about designers like myself who depend on a substantial percentage of pattern sales to store owners? What do you think our response should be to this situation?

And Now… it’s YOUR turn!

Here’s YOUR chance to sound off on this controversial topic I am SO looking forward to your comments and questions! It’ll be a lot of fun and potentially very educational for all of us as long as we all remember to say what we have to say NICELY!  🙂
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