Blogs: Retailing Angel or Demon?

Discussion
Jul 19, 2006
George Anderson

By Al McClain


What’s the deal with blogs? Blogs (short for web logs) may be a great opportunity for retailers and marketers and/or a big pain in the neck.

To me, blogs feel like chaos. Not controlled chaos, just chaos. Basically, blogs are nothing more than online diaries with accompanying comments and related links. People appear to talk about literally everything on blogs. You can pick a subject and get more than you ever wanted to know about it in a hurry.

According to an article in the New York Sun, there are now 34 million blogs worldwide.

While started for non-commercial purposes, marketers have now embraced blogs — Edelman Public Relations has nine full-time bloggers and Unilever has promoted both Dove and Axe in the U.K. on influential blogs.

For marketers, there would seem to be two distinct opportunities with blogs:

  1. Start your own blog, providing content and letting consumers respond (although some companies are doing “one way” blogs, which I don’t think are really blogs).

  2. Monitor blogs about your company for research purposes and/or to comment on or rebut statements made about your company.


Just for kicks, as a novice in this area, I thought I’d use Google’s Blog Search to see what people have to say about Meijer (Wal-Mart is too easy). A Google Blog Search reveals 48,584 blogs that include “Meijer” in them and right away you get the feeling that blogs may be unmanageable. You might think the results, when sorted by relevance at least, would yield some major insights. In this unscientific example, there may be some insights, but there was a lot of noise to wade through as well:



  • Blog ranked # 3 linked to an obituary for a pet bird bought at Meijer, and a rant against selling pet birds.


  • Blog # 4 yielded a link to a Meijer press release on their specialty food site and a very lukewarm endorsement by a consumer.


  • Blog # 5 linked to not even a blog but a straight press release from “Clean Edge News” on General Motors/Meijer opening ethanol fueling stations in Indiana.


  • Blog # 7 led to a pitch for Mormonism, followed by the tale of a consumer’s encounter with a Nigerian man in a Meijer store and the person’s attempts to convert him to Mormonism.


  • Blog # 9 was an enthusiastic review of new Meijer shopping carts that have “beer holders” on the sides.


Wow, now what do we do with this “knowledge”? Should Meijer be analyzing all 48,584 blogs that include its name or is that a waste of time and effort? Should they start their own blog? They may have one for all I know but I’m not going to sort through all of these to find out.

Discussion Questions: Should retailers and other consumer marketers concern themselves with monitoring and possibly
responding to third-party blogs? What role, if any, do you see for company created blogs?


In a discussion we had on RetailWire in August of 2004 (Blogging
Takes Word Of Mouth To New Level
), George Anderson said an estimated 10 percent of the online population read blogs. It’s no doubt grown since then, but it’s still
a fraction of a fraction and an extremely fragmented market, both of which make me question the opportunity blogs represent for commercial interests. In that same discussion,
Joanne Fritz said that she seriously doubted that large companies can produce effective blogs, because they won’t be candid enough.

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14 Comments on "Blogs: Retailing Angel or Demon?"


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Race Cowgill
Guest
Race Cowgill
14 years 7 months ago

In a universe (retail) where customer needs and wants are either poorly understood or poorly addressed, it seems difficult to justify promoting blog monitoring and creation as a way to change that. We have far superior tools already, and they are seldom used and even more seldom used to change business processes.

Karin Miller
Guest
Karin Miller
14 years 7 months ago

Regarding retailers monitoring of blogs in cyberspace:

Retailers should all have a web-savvy entry level marketing person spend a day a month monitoring what is out there and providing a report to senior management. Patterns in the commentary could be useful and a few serious blogs worth monitoring more closely may present themselves.

Regarding retailers creating their own blogs:

In my industry, one blog stands out as a good example of what can be achieved with passion and discipline. Rob Forbes, the founder of Design Within Reach emails a newsletter 2-3 times a month and posts it on their web site also at http://www.dwr.com/designNotes.cfm. Unlike most retail newsletters where you get the feeling that someone with a long to-do list was scrambling for a story to meet a deadline, the DWR newsletter consistently demonstrates true enthusiasm for the subject of modern design, personal reflections and good information, not all of which is geared toward selling product.

Gene Hoffman
Guest
Gene Hoffman
14 years 7 months ago

Retailers and consumer marketers should stay close as practical to current “happenings” everywhere. That’s a challenge since one’s time is finite and blogs are becoming infinite. Thus, how much time can be prioritized effectively to capture every source of expounded information — sourceful and extraneous?

In devoting time to “blog addiction” retailers and consumer marketers should recognize that time is something that man is always willing to kill when enraptured by curiosities – an admirable trait for making progress – which in turn can also end up, if not prudent, with an opposite result of killing one’s production.

Barry Wise
Guest
Barry Wise
14 years 7 months ago

Whether they have a good public image or not, most retailers are concerned with how their customers feel about them, and what they’re saying about them. However, in most instances monitoring blogs is not the way to track their public image. Blogs have become so fragmented and unmanageable that retailers are wasting their time in trying to monitor them. Instead, retailers need to be diligent in listening to what their customers when they’re in their stores, and when they contact them. They would also do well by making it easy for customers to email and or call with problems, complaints and suggestions. Although this sounds very basic, it’s also something many retailers don’t do well.

David Livingston
Guest
14 years 7 months ago

Blogs can be a big distraction. The smaller the company, the more impact they have. If Wal-Mart has 50,000 comments per day and 99% are meaningless, no one has time to seriously evaluate the other 1%. With a small company that has only a few messages per day, regardless of their relevance, they can often be the water cooler gossip of the day. I’ve made comments/predictions on some small companies in the past and some of those companies have gone to great lengths to find my identity and one even used the power of subpoena to find my source of knowledge. So that was basically a waste of time and money for both of us. Basically the large companies don’t care and the small companies take them too seriously. I would consider RetailWire a blog. The good thing about RetailWire is that the comments are managed and supervised so that the comments are relevant to the discussions.

Ryan Mathews
Guest
14 years 7 months ago

Blogs are a fact of cyberlife. Ignore them at your peril. Pay too much attention to them at your peril.

Mark Lilien
Guest
14 years 7 months ago

Consumer research is usually done via sampling. It’s easy to sample blogs on a given subject, just like Al McClain did. Caring retailers can ask certain staff members to each sample X blogs daily or weekly, using a keyword search. It’s a great way to build customer awareness, and learn about their issues. No one needs to read every single blog that mentions a given subject.

Smart retailers can run their own blogs, but they have to be prepared for frank feedback. Amazon isn’t ashamed when some of their books get bad reviews. Amazon is respected for providing an honest forum.

Zel Bianco
Guest
14 years 7 months ago

With all due respect Al, I think that’s what people were saying about the internet before it became more mainstream. In fact, some people are still saying it about the internet. Perhaps, manufacturers and retailers should monitor what is being said, and not necessarily try to respond to all discussions. To ignore blogs is to ignore a whole fertile area to audit consumer opinion and trends.

Matt Drudge of the Drudge Report started as a blog that has become quite influential.

Laura Davis-Taylor
Guest
Laura Davis-Taylor
14 years 7 months ago

Blogs are serving a purpose — giving consumers an unfiltered voice. Why do you think they’ve been so rapidly adopted? From a research perspective, there is indeed a ton of wade through. But, there are some valuable nuggets within them if you take the time and look for the eureka observations. It’s unedited and free-flowing…like listening in on a private conversation. Unlike focus groups, no one is altering behavior to respond to a prompt; they’re just talking!

Based on this, large companies don’t need to create blogs unless they have something compelling and consumer-oriented to provide. They need to be fueling the conversation to organically create positive buzz in the blog community. Give people something to talk about and they’ll talk (i.e. Apple)! No, the blog buzz won’t move mountains…but it can indeed serve as an important element of the Network Effect.

Brett Williams
Guest
Brett Williams
14 years 7 months ago

Having left the IT field to pursue my dream of being a pet supply retailer I knew that I wanted a web presence for my shop. It is good, cheap and easy marketing. Since I used open source blog software to prepare my website, you could say that our web presence is a blog although we do not allow any online comments to be made, mainly to easily weed out spam comments. We do allow customers to email us directly. And they really take advantage of it.

The blog software makes it easy to post promotions, holiday store hours or information on new products. We also use another software package for an easy to administer email newsletter.

Besides word-of-mouth and the sign on the front of my store, it’s the best marketing money I have spent.

Carol Spieckerman
Guest
14 years 7 months ago

Right when I want to scream at the haphazard madness that is the Blogosphere, I get some fantastic tip or insider information from one that keeps me hangin’ on!

Great comments all around. In regard to one-way blogs not really being blogs…allowing two-way blogging guarantees that screening for profanity, porno publicity, SPAM and nut-balls will be a full-time job for the blogger.

Bernice Hurst
Guest
14 years 7 months ago

Blogs are irresistible because they give people the opportunity to have their 15 minutes of fame and to get all sorts of stuff off their chests. For retailers, there is certainly the massive information overload that Al found but there probably was some useful stuff as well. Finding a way to keep an eye on comments would be challenging but most likely worthwhile if kept under control. As has been said, it’s dangerous to ignore and can be an invaluable means of knowing what people really think. As for starting one, this too can be useful but has also been used irresponsibly to manipulate views and I would steer clear of that unless you can assure people that their views will be used and not abused.

Camille P. Schuster, PhD.
Guest
14 years 7 months ago

When I asked my son to define what a blog is, I was surprised that this discussion counts as a blog! Right now there are so many that it is impossible to pay attention to them all. However, a mechanism that allows people from anywhere to exchange ideas and information on a topic that is of interest to them is an important new development on the Internet. They will continue to evolve and change and morph into something else. However, this is one way to know what consumers are thinking.

Justin Time
Guest
14 years 6 months ago

Blogs can be valuable tools, especially for supermarkets

A grocery retailer can sense what they are doing good or bad by constantly checking out blog posts.

This type of information can be gathered and instantly be used to strengthen an already great position or correct something that isn’t going very well.

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