Would You Pay Shops For The Privilege Of Browsing?

An Australian supermarket has begun charging customers who don't buy anything a $5 "browsing" fee. Could this be an emerging trend for brick-and-mortar retail stores? And is it something you'd be willing to put up with?

Browsing picture from Shutterstock

The controversial 'browsing fee' is the latest revenue-raising initiative of Celiac Supplies; a gluten-free supermarket in Coorparoo, Queensland. According to store manager Georgina, the policy was put in place to discourage shoppers from using her shop to reference products before buying them elsewhere at a cheaper price. Apparently, an average of 60 people would go into the store each week, ask questions about certain products and then head out without buying anything.

“I’ve had a gut full of working and not getting paid. I’m not here to dispense a charity service for Coles and Woolworths to make more money,” the manager told the Australian Associated Press.

Now, you could argue that consumers should be able to browse at their leisure and pressuring them to buy something is a violation of their rights. On the other hand, retail stores are private property and managers are allowed to withhold service from whomever they choose, provided they aren't breaking any discrimination laws.

Likewise, as long as the store is upfront about its T&Cs, they can legally charge any arbitrary fee that takes their fancy (a good example is restaurants and their dodgy corkage fees and holiday surcharges).

That said, we can't imagine it would be terribly easy to enforce this rule. If you told them to get stuffed and walked out of the store would they actually call the police? After all, you haven't stolen anything.

As we have reported in the past, the brick-and-mortar retail industry is having a tough time staying afloat, but surely antagonising prospective customers is not the answer?

We're keen to hear your thoughts on this unusual development. Would you still shop in a store that enforced such a policy? If the Apple Store started adding a browsing/consulting fee, would you still chat to their staff? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below.

See also: How Apple And Other Retailers Subtly Seduce You In Their Stores


Comments

    Here's an idea, if your prices are so high that people feel the need to shop elsewhere, lower your damn prices. That's a possible 60% increase of sales you could have because of it.

    Last edited 27/03/13 2:48 pm

      Thats what i was going to say, now less people will visit because they know they should just go to coles or safeway for cheaper products.

      Almost any advice you need you could get online anyway.

      I think this is mostly an attempt at publicity.

      For a potential $300 a week, they are alienating 100% of their customers, now if they are not selling anything at all then they have nothing to lose. But lowering their prices a little (don't have to match coles/safeway just get close for good value)

        I suspected a publicity stunt too, but I'm stumped to work out how it could possibly benefit the company? Making everyone hate you usually isn't a good marketing policy.

          But.. They have a website with their full product range AND prices on display!?
          This just makes no sense from any angle: marketing stunt, cost covering, customer loyalty; nothing actually makes sense as to Why they would be dumb enough as to think that will help their business.
          You assume that in accordance with the law, they could only do this if they had a giant sign out the front that tells people that their is a no purchase fee, which would discourage More people!
          It's insane!

            Even that sign wouldn't make this enforceable.

          "I suspected a publicity stunt too, but I'm stumped to work out how it could possibly benefit the company?"

          Perhaps misguided by the saying "no such thing as bad publicity". They make a controversial policy like this, wait a few days for word to spread around, then retract it.

          If as people are saying her prices are the same as coles/safeway, she should simply state that "same cost as major shops, but with the personal touch and advice" or something to that effect, although she might end up in a pricing war with them which she would not be able to win.

          Its similar to the fashion store on rodeo drive in LA (celebrities love to shop there), he charges $1500 non refundable deposit to enter the store. Or some sporting stores that charge a $50 non refundable deposit to try on snowboard boots because you can get them for half the price online/overseas.

          There's the old saying, (paraphrasing here) any publicity (good or bad) is still publicity.

        "Now, you could argue that consumers should be able to browse at their leisure"

        Why would anyone need to argue that. If it's a shop, with open doors, that's available to the public, then of course consumers would assume that we're able to browse at their leisure - given that that's what happens in shops, and has happened for, ooh, perhaps 200 years? Don't quote me on that, i'm neither a retailer nor a historian.

        "I think this is mostly an attempt at publicity."

        No, it's just stupidity. But why on earth this person is somehow deserving of this much attention is beyond me. Can't companies that do have something to offer get this much attention from time to time.

      You're making one big assumption there. Her prices aren't actually any more expensive than coles or woolworths. People just assume that they are, and head on over.

      I don't think she's going about it the right way, but price isn't the issue here.

        I just saw that was the assumption made in the article as well.

          Why else would customers be referencing products at her store and then shopping elsewhere? Additional exercise?

            Because they assume it would be cheaper.
            http://www.couriermail.com.au/business/your-business/celiac-supplies-in-coorparoo-brisbane-charges-5-to-browse/story-fn7ve1pb-1226607041430

              Agree entirely. People just assume things will be cheaper at the supermarket. I can definitely see where she's coming from, I have the same problem as a consultant very often - where I spend possibly a whole day scoping a project for a quote, and it's simply not possible for the client to follow through or they think "cool now I have a price to compare to Indian Software Co #3059".

              That said, she's definitely taking the wrong approach to the issue.

              I'm going to guess that those people assuming the price is higher are also buying their light bulbs from Coles/Woolies too! If they are they are Morons! (They're more expensive and throw less light then the same wattage coming from a lighting supply company!

      Unfortunately a lot of the people who say the types of things you're saying have no idea what they're talking about, or any experience working for a small business.

      The phenomenon being talked about is known as 'showrooming', and it causes many small businesses to close.

      I used to work in an independent sports store - in which the largest portion of revenue came from shoe sales. Then, people started getting more internet savvy.

      Several times a day, people would come in, take up the time of the salesperson - trying on different brands, sizes, etc. before coming up with the "I'm not sure, I'll have to think about it. Can you write down the model number and size for me?"

      So, the owner with massive staff costs, rent, and various rising utilities costs, and smaller buying power than the chains (or supermarkets and internet outlets in this case) has to now cater for 'customers' who will never spend a cent at the store.

      "Your prices are too high! DUH!"

      I've seen the cost price of what was being sold when I was working there. In some cases, Eastbay was selling shoes cheaper than the Australian cost price.

      So before all of you keyboard warriors judge her (and I'm not saying what she's doing is the best thing for her to do); consider that her current frame of mind has her dealing with rising costs and a bunch of people posing as customers while she slowly gets forced out of business.

        I don't really think anyone is saying they don't understand the why, I think they're just saying it's the wrong thing to do and from their point of view as a consumer it would at the very least lose her THEIR business.. Not that it's probably relevant as they wouldn't have gone there either - but it is indicative of consumer behavior.

      No way man. Now you will probably hate on me because of where I used to work, but I used to work at Harvey Norman. I ended up having to leave because it is apparent that if I was to get paid for my knowledge I would have been achieving much more in the store.

      Yes people buy on price, but it is seriously frustrating spending sometimes an hour explaining to someone the reasons they should buy product x and because it is simply $5 cheaper elsewhere they will go there and buy it.

      I said to my boss before I left best if you don't pay us commission and we just stood at the front counter in a line with a price tag of how much our advice is worth say $20 per hour and you didn't get any service at all until you came up to your chosen sales person and forked over the cash. Sales guys don't get shit in commission anymore and this system would have set me up to be a very wealthy guy.

      Think about it the sales guys that make the most money have never told you anything about the product but just ridden the back of the knowledgeable guy you talked to prior.

      This country makes me sick

    Traditional retail has been struggling for a long time and we're now proposing a fee for... browsing? Pretty much forcing us online at that point.

    Don't see this catching on.

    so if you go into this shop to have a look and they don't have what you want... or its not in stock you then have to pay $5 for the "privelidge" of them not having what you want..... or you find out once inside that their price is ridiculous...... and they wonder why people are shopping online more

    Is it April 1st already?

    A shop worries that it's losing customers. The same shop then disincentives potential customers.

    Great business model. No wonder the bricks'n'mortar retail sector is struggling if buffoons like this are in charge.

    Last edited 27/03/13 3:00 pm

    Your 'customers' don't buy anything because you're too expensive.
    Solution?
    Charge more. Even if they don't buy anything.

    Well done. I'm guessing store manager Georgina has a promising career as a Labor backbencher when her celiac shop inevitably goes down the gurgler.

      Not a "customer" until they buy something.

      Nobody said she's too expensive, and infact from their online prices they're quite competitive.. That's not at all the issue here.

    I don't pay to be seen at venues. I don't pay cover charges. I'm just not emotionally shallow enough, self important enough, and most importantly I'm just not lacking in self confidence to the point where I need to do so. I most certainly won't be paying for the privilege of window shopping and seeing if a store has in stock the item I'm after.

      I find it ironic that this is the most self important post I can imagine. "I don't pay to be seen at venues". That's lucky. Because nobody fucking cares what you do.

      "People are idiots".

        Precisely why I don't pay. Nobody really cares what I do, nobody really cares who the venue has. In attempting to make a point against me, you've just completed my point.

    The sad thing is, despite all the annoyance this will gather towards her, it's great promotion and this negative story in itself will see the number of people investigating her store and buying from it go through the roof.

    People are idiots.

    Coeliac is spelt Coeliac. I would not go to her shop just because she can't spell.

      I was thinking the same thing...if you can't even SPELL what you are supposed to be an expert in then I don't want your advice!

    Any press is good press. I'd never even heard of Celiac Supplies until this article. I'm sure I'm not alone.

    I can understand the frustration that the shop owner is having here.

    Previously I worked in a small electronics retailer that was situated right next to a JB-HiFi. We would also experience this, spending a large amount of time providing information to a customer to have them walk out of the shop to the JB.

    Our shop could be very competitive on prices and offered price matching, yes this was still a common occurrence. Simply, it was because we would spend the time with the customer compared to the always busy JB HiFi where they felt they could never get a hold of a staff memeber.

      I think we can all see the frustration, but none of us can see the solution within Georgina's tactic.

      People are (rightfully) price conscious and are entitled to shop around.

      If the retailer has a good price, great. If they don't, they won't get the sale. It's not the consumers fault that the retailer priced themselves out of a sale. Why blame the consumer for being bright and protecting their wallet.

      If the retailer wants to make the customers life stressful, the customer won't shop there. Or at least many won't.

      It's not rocket science.

      Maybe when Georgina stuggles to attract customers she'll increase the entry fee to $25 to off-set her loss of earnings, that ought to work, eh. If not, no matter, increase it to $50. Sorted.

      Last edited 27/03/13 3:48 pm

    I would, it seems like a perfectly acceptable idea. In fact, I might just head down to JB now and offer the security guard some money. :D

    It seems like what she is actually wanting to put a charge on is advice. It is a dietary issue store and sounds like she is providing advice, talking about ingredients and offering suggestions that the person is then taking at buying elsewhere.
    Consultants have been charging for advice for years, why can't a store owner

      Agree completely. If the customer wishes to get some advice, she could offer a consultation. Charge them say $20 to sit down for half an hour and discuss their needs and print out any materials and menu plans that are appropriate. The selling off goods would then be secondary.

        And also prove you have the qualifications necessary to put such a charge in place. Just owning a shop isn't enough in my book.

        Also potentially refunding the consultation if the sale of product goes ahead.

      You need to be licensed to offer paid nutritional advice. Even naturopaths do.

    I can't imagine it'd be legal to try to get people to pay to leave. They could possibly have a $5 entry fee which you then get back off what you buy, but you'd have no end of issues if people wandered into your store to kill some time, then wandered out again and you tried to make them pay for the experience.

      It is as long as you're aware of this before entering with sufficient signage. It's private property, they can impose any limitations they want, as long as you are sufficiently informed.

    If hot blonde in the photo is there as well, then yes

    Pick and Payless had an entrance fee IIRC.

    There is a major loop hole in 'her' so called solution.

    Not a customer until you 'buy' something or you have to pay $5.

    > Go over to the vegetable isle

    > choose the smallest and cheapest per kilo thing, like the leaf of something

    > Pay 5c (or less = free) for said leaf = Customer

    > Leave and win at life.

      Apart from your comment making no sense - why put her gender in quotes? Is that in question?

        'her' as in referring to the woman in the article, don't make this about gender. Why do people automatically jump to the worst conclusions.

        What's not to get?

        - Buy something that's less than $5 which makes you a customer, which means you don't pay the $5 browsing fee.

    Pay me $5 to come into your store now

    absolutely within their rights, dumb decision though

    Does nobody in here actually understand what was happening?

    She constantly had to spend time helping people and giving advice only for them to leave and shop elsewhere. She is charging for the service.

    She said all the regular shoppers and disabled customers won't be charged. But people off the street wanting free information will be.

    Learn what the story is before commenting

    With an attitude like that I wouldn't wish to purchase from there. Also what if they don't have what you're after? They expect to you hand over money because they don't have a certain product? Hmm.

    Also you go in and ask a question and the answer reveals it's not what you're actually after and thus you leave empty handed, are you expected to also fork over money?

    'Do you have product X?'

    'Sorry, it's out of stock.'

    'Oh. Well, good bye then.'

    'Wait! That'll be $5!'

    This would be the stupidest idea.
    I wouldn't even walk into your store, let alone buy something.

    I think everybody is missing the point. She is not trying to attract more customers or even encourage more sales within her store, but to stop people (no they are not customers unless they buy something) taking advantage of her time, knowledge and facility for free. If you have a problem with the price that someone is charging for a product you wish to buy then do one of two things; either tell the salesperson straight away that the price is higher than you have seen or are willing to pay or leave and go to where you wish to purchase it from. If you have no intention to buy from a store or salesperson then it is not right to use them for their knowledge and time for free.......this is why we have the internet!!!!!
    Secondly if you want a store to beat or even price match a competitor who has inferior service, availability or convenience (ie not online) then don't demand the best service.
    What continues to amaze me about everyone is that they continue to feel they are entitled to drive down prices on what are essentially optional luxury items. Lets see them try this at a supermarket or even better at their local GP. Face it people you want the product, they have the product and can ask whatever amount they think people will pay for it. If you wish to complain about prices of anything channel your energies into essentials such as healthcare, power, water and healthy food!!!
    TL:DR get a grip on the important things in life.

    To anyone that justifies this in any way, you must be the type of people that either have a yacht-load of money or the kind of idiot that throws money away all the time. As for myself I'm a regular income guy, I make almost 50g a year and this 'method' of money making is disgusting. It's downright unethical.

    If I walked into this store and realised I didn't bring my wallet, what then? If I refuse to pay will you call the cops? If you refuse my declining to pay and don't permit me to leave the store, who's going to win when I take you to court? (I'll give you a hint, It's me). Even giving your would be customers notice prior to entry would not be ethical.

    The only way to do this properly would be to have a door entry cost that is rebated upon purchasing an item. I wonder how that would go for the company though...

      Imagine Pierce that you are earning your almost 50g a year and your boss asks you to work 2 hours extra a day for free because he doesn't want to pay for another employee. You provide your time, effort and knowledge for free. Would you be upset or just go along with it?

      This woman is providing staff, time, knowledge for free and she is now tired of it. Just like her I am sure you would be looking to recoup your losses.

      While her tactics may be incorrect, she is trying to get also what she is entitled for.

      Understand what was happening before you comment. It isn't some greedy person wanting to make some extra money. It is a person wanting people to pay for the service that she provides which is advice and knowledge, which people have been constantly getting from her for free, wasting her time, only to shop elsewhere.

      She said all the regular shoppers and disabled customers won't be charged. But people off the street wanting free information will be.

      Learn what the story is before commenting

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