Enterprise Apps

Retailers Use Blogs to Cement Customer Relationships

Eva Yusa is not crazy about eBay. One problem for her — just to name one — is that you have to wait a while to find out if you won the bid. It is not her idea of a customer-friendly shopping experience, she writes in her blog. “It’s like breadlines in Russia. Please pick me, take my money!”

EBay may not be worried about Yusa, specifically — at least not yet. It would take more than one person’s grousing to make a dent in the auction house’s popularity, despite the proven power base the blogosphere has established for itself.

Both Democratic and Republican operatives have been taken down by investigative blogs, for instance; other blogs have unmasked commercial fraud and seedy business practices.

Retailers are finding that a blog that is supportive can translate into measurable new sales, but they are exercising caution, despite the word-of-mouth advantages blogging can bring. Blogging is a dual-edged sword: A well-trafficked blog that is critical can deliver a blow.

Moving Cautiously

“Consumers still have a hard time with marketers using blogs to sell products,” Melissa Severin, a spokesperson for ShopLocal, a provider of both in-store sale information and e-commerce options from national retailers, told CRM Buyer.

“What they don’t mind, however, is a retailer using a blog to create a more tactical or friendly experience online for the customer,” she noted.

That is why ShopLocal is in the process of incorporating Yusa’s blog onto its Web site. Yusa, who also provides merchandising and trend spotting reports to ShopLocal, is a good writer with an excellent sense of what shoppers like and dislike, Severin said.

ShopLocal’s approach is just one of many retail experiments designed to harness blogs. They are meant to foster dialogue and strengthen customer relationships, but there are no best practices established yet for their use, and there are few reliable statistics measuring the impact they have on sales.

Indeed, the blog phenomenon itself is still quite new; many consumers are unclear about exactly what they are. Others scoff at commercially sponsored blogs, preferring to read the hundreds of thousands of well-written personal diaries that have become so popular.

Monitoring What Customers Say

Few retailers, in fact, have blogs on their Web site. Increasingly, though, many are monitoring what bloggers are saying about their products and using that information to generate support.

Sonos, a private company that retails the Sonos Digital Music System, monitors blogs for customers reporting their experiences or for bloggers that are out there spreading the word about the company or its product category, spokesperson Thomas L. Meyer told CRM Buyer.

“Our customer support department doesn’t just wait for a phone call or an e-mail to provide assistance — we use various ways of monitoring our customer experiences, and blogs are a big part of it. We believe strongly in word of mouth as a key driver to our business,” Meyer explained, “and since blogs are very popular and key in reaching our target audience, these various strategies are one of the key drivers of the success we have had to date.”

Straightforward Motives

Using a blog as a straightforward marketing vehicle is less likely to create a customer backlash if the retailer is straightforward about its goals. In some cases, these blogs are more evolved forms of Web pages.

PeakUniques.com, an online boutique store, uses itscompany blog to announce new vendors, to feature certain products, to announce special promotions or limited edition products, to highlight its vendors’ success, and to make shopping recommendations for special events such as Valentine’s Day, said Co-Founder Lauri Harrison.

“When someone clicks from our blog to our store, they typically buy the product,” she told CRM Buyer. “We have a high conversion rate from blog referrals.”

Blog Pitfalls

There are some pitfalls to using blogs. One is that the blogger could say something negative about the product — assuming it is an independent blogger, not one paid by the company.

Another problem, Meyer noted, is that a blogger may expect special treatment as a result of publishing a complaint on the Web.

“We are big believers in high touch customer support whether you blog or not,” he asserted. “If you trumpet on your blog that you are unhappy about some feature and hope the CEO will post a response to your issue, we still treat you like any other customer. If we have a fix, someone on our support team will post it.”

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