April 7, 2009, 12:00 AM

Retailers offering low prices get high marks from bloggers, study says

An analysis of the blog buzz about 17 major retail chains shows bloggers viewed most favorably wholesale and club stores that offer low prices. BJ’s Wholesale Club had the highest marks, while Sears and Macy’s fared among the worst.

To the extent the blogosphere reflects popular sentiment, consumers are positively disposed to retailers that make money and offer low prices, and taking a dim view of unprofitable retailers that are closing stores and cutting back on service.

That’s the picture that emerges from a study by media analysis firm Carma International of 300 English-language blog postings from January and February commenting on 17 major U.S. retail chains. Media monitor CyberAlert Inc. compiled and provided the blog posts to Carma.

Wholesale and club stores compiled the most favorable rating, 56 on a 0-to-100 scale, compared with 50 for traditional department stores and 49 for mass merchandisers. The wholesale and club stores benefited from relatively few blog comments on their financial performance and consistently favorable coverage of their low prices, Carma says.

The three chains in this category accounted for the top scores among the 17 chains studied, with BJ’s Wholesale Club getting the top overall score at 62, followed by Costco Wholesale Corp. 56 and Sam’s Club 55. BJ’s is No. 407 in the Internet Retailer Top 500 Guide, Costco No. 18 and Sam’s Club parent Wal-Mart Stores Inc. No. 14. Costco also stood out, as it had the second-most attention after Wal-Mart, and a high volume of moderately favorable attention, according to the report “U.S. Retailers: Winners and Losers in the Blogosphere.”

While 42.3% of the blog postings mentioned Wal-Mart, and many commented favorably on its strong financial results, the intense criticism of Wal-Mart in many postings over such issues as labor practices and driving smaller retailers out of business brought its overall favorability score down to 49, Carma says.

Bloggers also gave poor marks to Macy’s Inc., whose 47 rating was the lowest in the study, commenting on its poor financial results and store closings. Also getting a thumb’s-down from bloggers was Sears Holdings Corp., which drew fire for poor customer service as well as poor financial results, and garnered an overall rating of 48. Macy’s is No. 28 in the Internet Retailer Top 500 Guide and Sears No. 8.

The report concludes that “in today’s economy, offering competitive prices for quality products may be more important than ever for major retailers across the country.” Further on, the report says, “the other key trend in the quality of coverage across the industry was that the more a retailer was affected by today’s economic turmoil, the worse its coverage was. Macy’s best typified this trend, as frequent attention on its poor earnings and store closings caused it to receive some of the worst coverage overall in the industry.”

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