March 11, 2008, 12:00 AM

Some retailers setting their sights on bloggers to gauge word of mouth

Some retailers find bloggers to be helpful guides to public opinion and important individuals with whom they potentially can establish productive relationships. Others disagree.

Bloggers have proven to be a force to be reckoned with in some areas of American life, such as politics. There are more than 75 million blogs on just about every topic imaginable, according to popular blog search site Technorati.com. And there are plenty that cover retail goods and consumer brands.

Some retailers find bloggers to be helpful guides to public opinion and important individuals with whom they potentially can establish productive relationships.

“Social media is ramping up-blogs give people forums where they all are interested in similar topics and can congregate,” says Tony Roscelli, director of consumer research at Screenlife LLC, a manufacturer and retailer that specializes in interactive DVD board games. It recently started a formal program with BuzzLogic Inc. to monitor blog chatter. “We can tap into these forums and really see what these people are into and build products based on that interest. We ask the question: Are the online people interested in a theme enough to justify us to invest in it?”

With only 2.6% of U.S. shoppers using blogs when researching purchases, according to a recent JupiterResearch consumer survey, other retailers believe monitoring and potentially working with bloggers is of little value.

“It’s just not that big a deal at this point. Your resources are better spent elsewhere,” says Tom Cox, CEO of Golfballs.com Inc. “We have affiliate marketing, e-mail marketing, pay-per-click, organic search-I know if I commit resources to these it will get me a return on investment. Blogs are like the newsgroups of a decade ago-they were there, but did they ever move the needle? No.”

But some retailers already have had success with blogger experiments. Icon Estates, A Constellation Co., which operates wineries with 12 brands and e-commerce site HartwickandGrove.com, last year decided one of the best places to discover and routinely examine word of mouth is the massive blogosphere. It started a formal monitoring program with Andiamo Systems Inc. One of the first outlets it identified as an important player, based on traffic and reader comments, was food and wine blog VinDivine.com.

“In September we did a test with a deep discount coupon for one product, working with VinDivine.com. We shared the coupon with the blogger and he shared it with his readers,” says Matt Wood, vice president of retail operations. “It was 70% off an expensive wine we were very long on and that we had a margin to play with. It boosted sales the next day significantly.”

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