August 29, 2007, 12:00 AM

Strengthening the customer/e-retailer bond

(Page 2 of 3)

When it comes to consumers, those who spend a lot of time on their PCs and are comfortable with technology, early technology adopters, and avid online shoppers are the likeliest widget users, says Sucharita Mulpuru, senior retail analyst at Forrester Research Inc. “They could range from young customers to affluent, busy shoppers,” she says. “As long as a widget provides relevant content and a shopper is savvy enough with technology, a retailer can expect good usage and traffic.”

The trick, however, is making sure customers use widgets and keep them on their desktops.

“The challenge with widgets is delivering on the promise of automating tasks,” Valdes says. “A consumer has made an investment in time and attention and a marketer has to deliver on the consumer’s expectations. If an e-retailer provides something that is not very useful and is more of an ad, then the impact for the marketer will be negative rather than positive.”

Widget strategy

The whole idea behind desktop widgets is simple: Instead of a user going to a web site, the web site, in part, comes to the user.

“Anybody in e-retailing has to constantly be asking the question, ‘Where is the customer living and what kind of conversation does she expect us to have?’ If she evolves into new conversation spaces, her favorite retailer ought to go with her. Strategically it is critical that you keep up with where she is at,” says Dave Owen, manager of Internet customer relationship marketing at J.C. Penney Co. Inc., which is testing a desktop widget it launched in May. “If she is increasingly spending her time online, and on her desktop with other applications and you want to be part of her life, then that is where you need to be.”

Like Due Maternity, J.C. Penney launched its desktop widget, JCPToday, to cultivate closeness with consumers.

“In regular surveys our customers tell us they want to know about our offers,” Owen says. “She has a job to do-buy the clothing and furniture and other items for the family. And she has to do that in a cost-effective way that includes the right styles and meets her tastes. And she wants us to tell her how to cut through the clutter. The widget is us answering her questions.”

JCPToday is a little larger and more complex than most widgets (see page 28). The top half showcases the latest news, products and sales on J.C. Penney’s e-commerce site; a click on any of the small, horizontal message boxes connects a customer to the relevant page on the site. The bottom half is a weekly calendar that highlights a product of the day; consumers can click on any day of the week to get product information and images without having to leave the widget for the e-commerce site.

JCPToday then goes a step further than many desktop widgets. Users can click on one of two tabs on the right side of the widget to access The Scoop, which extends the width of the widget and shows information on ever-changing topics such as birthstones, and My Stuff, which enables users to change the appearance of the widget and provides a calendar in which users can enter reminders for gift-giving events like birthdays and anniversaries.

J.C. Penney declines to give results of its widget test to date, stating it is waiting until the end of the test phase in the fall. The retailer sent invitations to download the widget to a cross-section of customers on its e-mail list, and it reports thousands have downloaded the application. “We have been very satisfied to see the number of customers using the widget to link to information on a daily basis,” Owen says.

Boosting word of mouth

Clothing and accessories retailer Moosejaw Mountaineering’s strategic goal for its desktop widget, Moosejaw Communicator, is to boost word of mouth and get even tighter with its most valuable customers.

“Customers that download our desktop widget are hands down our most loyal. They are huge believers in the fun Moosejaw Madness culture we create and are an extremely valuable source of word of mouth advertising,” says Jeffrey Wolfe, COO and CFO. “The desktop widget is an invaluable tool for communication and advertising. A widget adopter is a customer for life. Our focus right now is on growing the adopter base.”

Created in house for $15,000, Moosejaw Communicator (see page 29) has so far been downloaded by thousands of customers, Wolfe says. The desktop widget, launched in November, features two primary sections: The Lowdown highlights a deal of the day and Daily Remark features comical content from Moosejaw Madness web pages. Personalization features are on the horizon.

A big advantage

“The desktop widget alerts customers 10 minutes before the rest of the world whenever we launch a new deal of the day. These offers always sell out very quickly so downloading the widget is a big advantage,” Wolfe says. “It also alerts customers whenever new daily remarks and trivia questions are posted. The next step for the widget is displaying our photo of the week, where we feature customers holding up the Moosejaw summit banner in locations around the world.”

Preliminary results are in on Moosejaw Communicator users: They purchase approximately four times more frequently and spend about six times as much money as the average Moosejaw customer.

Strategically speaking, Moosejaw believes widgets will be important in e-retailing’s future. “The ability for a retailer to control real estate directly on a customer’s desktop is revolutionary,” Wolfe says. “The opportunities for driving loyalty and sales are limitless. And I know of no more convenient way to get valuable information to a customer than a desktop widget. Retailers that can consistently grow their widget adopter base faster than the widget attrition rate will enjoy a huge competitive advantage.”

Growing the number of consumers using widgets means developing plans to get them to download the desktop applications in the first place. Moosejaw entices customers to download Moosejaw Communicator with its advance notice of daily deals. Due Maternity lures shoppers to download Countdown Clock by offering product discounts.

To persuade customers to download its widget, unveiled in April, Shop.com is thinking financial perks. The e-retailer is considering offering customers who download its SHOP.COMpanion widget 5% off orders placed during the first 30 days of use along with possible rebates on orders placed through the widget.

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