Wal-Mart Struggling with Web 2.0

Ann All

Poor Wal-Mart. The retailer just can't seem to master the whole Web 2.0 thing. (Though to be fair, the company is far from the only one.)


Still stinging from the negative publicity fallout of a botched blog, Wal-Mart is trying to adopt some of the same Web 2.0ish features that have been successfully employed by other companies, notably consumer product reviews and ratings, reports Reuters.


The company's chief marketing officer called such reviews (whichhave been popular on other sites) "the No. 1 customer-requested feature." Wal-Mart is hoping the feature engenders warm-and-fuzzy feelings among at least some of the approximately 130 million people who visit its stores and/or its Web site every week. In the future, it may use the reviews to help make decisions about the products it sells.


A little more than a month after the feature was added and with an admittedly fuzzy value proposition, it's too early to tell if this feature is living up to the company's expectations. A sign that Wal-Mart may still not quite "get" it: its intention to take five to seven days to review the reviews before publishing them.


Already considered a success, reports Reuters, is a feature that allows customers to order stuff online and have it shipped for free to a Wal-Mart store for pick-up. Wal-Mart says customers typically spend an additional $60 in stores during the pick-up process. Taking a cue from Amazon, it makes sense for Wal-Mart to leverage its formidable supply-chain and logistics expertise.


Less successful for the retailer was a foray into Facebook, where members of a group ostensibly created to help college students swap decorating tips for dorm rooms have been more interested in discussing controversies over Wal-Mart's treatment of its employees. Like digg.com before it, Wal-Mart has learned that it's tough to control how users behave online. According to the Washington Post, other retailers have had considerably better luck with their online marketing strategies to reach the desirable teenage demographic, many of whom spend as much time on social networking sites as they do watching TV. American Eagle Outfitters, for instance, has more than 46,000 friends on its MySpace page as well as a site called 77E that features "It's a Mall World," a series of three-minute adventures of fashion-conscious friends.


The stakes for retailers and other businesses could be quite high if folks like Internet visionary Vint Cerf are right. Speaking recently at the MediaGuardian Edinburgh International Television Festival, Cerf predicted that folks will ultimately choose to consume the majority of their entertainment and other content online.


"You're still going to need live television for certain things - like news, sporting events and emergencies - but increasingly it is going to be almost like the iPod, where you download content to look at later," says Cerf in a Guardian story about the event.

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