Wal-MartSpace.com?

Discussion
Jul 21, 2006
Santi Briglia

By Santi Briglia


In a strategy to attract 13-18 year old kids and their back-to-school dollars, Wal-Mart has launched a teen networking and content sharing site called “The Hub.” Unlike sites, such as MySpace.com, that serve as its model, The Hub is highly controlled. Consequently, many would agree with the remarks in a recent AdAge article that The Hub “proves just how painfully uncool it is to try to be cool.”


Developed in collaboration with Sony, The Hub opens with video footage of four (for all intents and purposes) hip teens, who talk about what they do, who they are, and what “School My Way” means to them. Despite the youthful appeal, however, these are clearly actors reading a script, even though the videos are positioned as authentic amateur submissions. Individual blog entries featured on the landing pages seem to be scripted as well. (Example: “Although summer is fun for relaxing, sun, swimming and travel, I always look forward to heading back to school in the fall. Back to school is always a time where I get excited to see my friends and shop for new clothes.”)


To avoid issues associated with the dark side of sites like MySpace.com, registration is required to submit content. Submissions are accepted “pending approval,” and Wal-Mart’s policy includes emailing each registered teen’s parent, giving them the option of pulling a submission.


While Wal-Mart is making a great effort to win more vital teen apparel dollars away from Target, AdAge interviewees revealed that the site has not gotten the reviews it sought.


“Some of the kids looked like they were trying to be supercool, but they weren’t at all, and they were just being kind of weird,” said Amy Kandel, 14, of Columbus, Ohio.


“Are these real kids?” asked Pete Hughes, 18. “It just seemed kind of corny to me.”


Industry watchers see dangers in Wal-Mart’s approach. “The tight controls will work against Wal-Mart’s goal to make the site more edgy and will instead cement the retailer’s image as a conformist brand,” said Tim Stock of New York-based Scenario DNA, a research firm devoted to studying Gen Y.


But the stakes are high. “Wal-Mart really needs this to work,” said Irma Zandl of youth-marketing firm Zandl Group. “Over the last year, we have been getting increasingly bad feedback from teen girls about Wal-Mart in contrast to Target…” 


Discussion Questions: How can retailers successfully tap into the explosive internet networking and content sharing trend while avoiding the pitfalls?
Can Wal-Mart succeed with their attempt?


To me, The Hub misses the main point by discouraging individual expression. Yes, there are some decent prizes for the top three videos and top three pages.
But as one teen quoted in the AdAge article puts it – “it, like, takes a lot of time, and it’s not very likely you’ll win.”


I speculate that if Wal-Mart were to use its considerable resources to create a better, truly authentic MySpace-type site, they might actually get results.
Hey…with their resources, they could probably launch a shuttle to Mars as well, but… “you know, it’s like not their business.”

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14 Comments on "Wal-MartSpace.com?"


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Mark Lilien
Guest
14 years 7 months ago

Wal-Mart’s German stores held “singles nights” on Fridays and attracted significant extra traffic. When some American Wal-Marts tried the same thing, the company ended the experiment. MySpace’s hook is socializing. Wal-Mart fears socializing. A site that says, “I always look forward to heading back to school in the fall…” has minimal credibility, anyway. Barnes & Noble and Borders stores have cafes that encourage socializing. Few retailers encourage their customers to meet each other and enjoy each other’s company, but those retailers are greatly appreciated.

Len Lewis
Guest
Len Lewis
14 years 7 months ago

It’s a great idea and a visionary step toward customer relationship marketing.

Wal-Mart is attempting to engage a new and thriving customer base. No one was born cool — not retailers like Target or the multitude of online sites like MySpace. My advice to Wal-Mart would be to have 13-to-18-year-olds involved in the development of the site. Don’t leave it up to existing management at Wal-Mart to tell these kids what they like. Get their input and work with it.

If not, it’s just another case of adults unsuccessfully trying to tell teens what to wear, think and do. Command and control doesn’t work.

Laura Davis-Taylor
Guest
Laura Davis-Taylor
14 years 7 months ago
I agree with Bill; good start and kudos for trying. However, this seems to be yet another attempt to make a brand a central hub to a teen’s life. The wireless telecomm companies have been doing it for years with lukewarm success. We all know that teens adore connecting, sharing and belonging to something. However, nowhere have I seen that they want to use a retail or CPG brand as the central place to connect with each other. Having a place in a teen’s life is a great thing…it just doesn’t work when a brand wants to take over and be THE place. They already have those outlets, that’s why MySpace is so successful! Seems to me that Wal-Mart is on the road to some innovative ideas, but they need to do some more research with the actual target to come up with some strategies that they will embrace. Why not use MySpace itself? Or how about mobile strategies that tie into the Web and store? Or, run web contests to design new clothing for… Read more »
Ryan Mathews
Guest
14 years 7 months ago

It’s tough to be a fast follower here. MySpace is so entrenched it will be difficult to bump them until “the kids” figure out it’s another not-so-hip mega-capitalist ploy to separate them from their parents’ money. Wal-Mart has a long way to go before it reaches “cool.”

Bill Robinson
Guest
Bill Robinson
14 years 7 months ago

You have to admire Wal-Mart for its commitment to innovation on all fronts. But, the company’s attempts to appeal to teens through The Hub must relax its grip if it wants to succeed.

Kids recognize non-cool just as easily as they recognize cool. You can’t get there through the use of actors and controlled messages.

But keep trying, Wal-Mart. You’ll probably get it right. And the teens will come rolling in with their friends for every day low prices more than cool.

Carol Spieckerman
Guest
14 years 7 months ago

Meant to tie this in before … American Apparel recently announced that they will be opening the first virtual retail store on a dedicated island within Second Life (for the uninitiated … the virtual community that sells land, “creations” made by various “residents,” DIY avatars, etc. trading in its own currency, Linden Dollars). American Apparel isn’t looking at it as a money-maker but, rather, a cool location with endless possibilities and access … testing new lines, getting feedback on products and yes, selling some of their creations to interested residents. They are utilizing a “famous” Second Lifer to co-design the space and to make sure that all efforts have cred with the Second Life crowd.

The first time I heard about it, I thought “Wal-Mart should do this.” Sounds a lot less risky, very hip, and lower-maintenance than screening Hubsters!

Carol Spieckerman
Guest
14 years 7 months ago

How will Wal-Mart define objectionable material? Will it be one of those “I know it when I see it” deals? This feels trite to me and why not just open up on scary ol’ My Space and let it fly? It surprised me too that Wal-Mart’s marketing team didn’t catch some of the early faux pas (“hubsters” and other catch phrases and web terminology).

As for Wal-Mart being un-cool, that hasn’t been my experience (until this announcement? Ha!). The gift card of choice for the teens in my life (all of whom live in major cities), has been Wal-Mart for three years running. Metro 7 wasn’t meant to grab teens (that would instead be the impressive re-styling/re-positioning of No Boundaries).

Bernice Hurst
Guest
14 years 7 months ago
Actually, I am dead set against using the internet to draw in kids to anything. Yes, I know that that is totally unrealistic and goes against the grain of every manufacturer/retailer in the marketplace these days but there is an important (I think) principle here. USING THE INTERNET IS A SEDENTARY ACTIVITY. With all the talk, nay screams, about obesity epidemics and how we all need to do exercise to establish a healthy lifestyle, what is this encouraging people to sit around in front of a screen all about? It’s no good fighting the junk food advertising on television battle and banning it in schools and wherever if you’re just going to find another way to get kids to sit for hours on end. If Wal-Mart really wants to be innovative and cool – and I agree with everyone else that their new site is not going to convince kids for even a second – then they should think about something more active. Mark’s suggestion about finding ways and means to get people together is… Read more »
Bill Bittner
Guest
Bill Bittner
14 years 7 months ago

No one will deny that Mass Advertising is dead or dying. Who really knows what the next round will be, but Wal-Mart certainly has the resources to invest. It is scary to learn that they also have the guts. Remember the old proverb… Fall down six times, get up seven. Wal-Mart will reap advantages from this experimentation.

Something has to change in the way retailers reach consumers. It will be interesting to watch how this evolves. Maybe Wal-Mart should have started with the parents.

Don Delzell
Guest
Don Delzell
14 years 7 months ago
Progressive idea, poorly executed. Marketing in today’s world absolutely requires synergy. Seemingly disparate elements working together toward a common goal. WM has a continuing goal of attracting and keeping teen customers. In the apparel side, it has long been assumed (or maybe known) that WM gets Mom for the birth, keeps her into the 4-7/4-6x size range, and then starts a very fast loss curve ending in total abandonment in Teen and Young Men’s. Try as I might, I can’t find significant in-store merchandising efforts, media programs or PR events designed to turn that around. Metro 7 is not a teen brand. Nor do I think that WM really has much of a chance with fashion conscious teens. But hold it a moment…maybe the only teen segment they really have a chance with IS the non-cool? Mall specialty stores and to a lesser degree Target (non-apparel) have tight holds on the cool market segment. Who services the non-cool? The kids who really DO want to go back to school? What’s wrong with being the destination… Read more »
Karin Miller
Guest
Karin Miller
14 years 7 months ago

Though I agree this is a bit of a stretch, I certainly don’t see it as a mistake. Once teens start submitting their own videos and profiles, which I believe they will, the site will feel less contrived.

Remember, this is Wal-Mart: even if a tiny fraction of a percentage of teens who shop there participate, the site will still have enough members to make it credible.

The parental controls may prove to be a plus. With all of the negative publicity that MySpace has received recently, combined with the clear desire on the part of teens to express themselves online, there may be parents who decide that they trust Wal-Mart more than other venues, and allow this as the only option for their offspring to create an online profile.

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

Innovation is good, but if Wal-Mart is trying to use a current technology to attract “real” consumers, the hook has to be “real.” Rather than scripting what kids “might say,” a better approach would be to hire some real kids to write the script. MySpace and blogs are attractive because the participants relate to the conversations. Anyone with teenage kids knows they may look forward to seeing their friends but they don’t say they look forward to going back to school!

jared colautti
Guest
jared colautti
14 years 7 months ago
This attempt by Wal-Mart to become cool is rife with problems. Firstly, they’ve stolen the idea from MySpace and anyone who has been to MySpace, namely Wal-Mart’s target, will see that. Why would someone leave the most highly trafficked site for teens for what is undoubtedly a weaker experience at The Hub? To their credit, Wal-Mart is offering acquisition incentives, but I don’t think they will be enough. Secondly, the videos and sample pages that people are greeted with on The Hub’s homepage are so painfully contrived it’s laughable. Teens are more media savvy than ever before and will easily see through the feel-good “I love school almost as much as I love shopping for back-to-school” nonsense. Thirdly, the video of the “edgy and unique urban skater kid” presented the best oxymoron I’ve seen in a while. Why would someone who claims to be so unique and individual shop at the world’s largest retailer? So they too can wear a pair of pants or write in the same binder that all of their classmates have?… Read more »
Stephan Kouzomis
Guest
Stephan Kouzomis
14 years 7 months ago

The magic to MySpace and other web sites, like blogs, is the realism; nothing is phony…at least almost nothing.

Wal- Mart is basically, airing commercials on teen products vs. paying for television time.

Hey, Wal-mart, do your home work, then sponsor a talk show or magazine, both on the Internet, to capture the minds of the elusive teenagers. Hmmmmmmmmm

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