Wal-Mart Returns to Blogosphere with Buyer Insights

by Talk Business & Politics ([email protected]) 82 views 

The first foray by Wal-Mart Stores Inc. into the blogosphere, a teen-targeted Web site called “The Hub” modeled after MySpace, was met with skepticism at its launch and snarky satisfaction when the company shut it down after just 10 weeks in late 2006.

An Oct. 3, 2006, Forbes article allowed the possibility The Hub had always been a short-term promotion during back-to-school shopping, but speculated that, “lack of interactivity between users, heavy-handed corporate messaging, and parental notifications the site used could also have hastened its shutdown.”

Never accuse Wal-Mart – which has adopted Wall Street recommendations it slow store expansion and exited the upscale apparel market nearly as quickly as it entered – of not trying to learn from its missteps.

Since August 2007, Wal-Mart buyers and associates have been posting at the company-hosted checkoutblog.com.

Despite some fluffy posts such as announcing the Easter Bunny’s arrival in stores with notes on some of the $1 items nearby, checkoutblog makes for more meaty retail reading.

Contributors share insights and seek feedback on subjects such as their buying decisions across all categories, products in the pipeline like the new Nintendo Wii Fit and a behind-the-scenes perspective on Wal-Mart’s move to back Sony’s Blu-ray high-definition DVD format.

For instance, a recent post by Ryan Halford, who blogs on gadgets and is the computer buyer for Wal-Mart, explained the company’s recent and well-publicized decision to pull the $200 Everex Linux-based gPC.

“We bought the gPC as a test and put it in a handful of stores (638 to be exact),” Halford wrote. “After we bought this as a test, Everex may have been a bit aggressive with PR prior to seeing the customer reaction to the product in our stores. It shipped in the 4th quarter of last year and didn’t meet our sales targets. Since we assort only 8-10 desktops in our stores, every computer has to perform. Based on the poor performance in stores, we decided not to re-order the merchandise.”

Wal-Mart’s move to Blu-ray was actually announced on checkoutblog first, by movie buyer Susan Chronister at the bright-and-early hour of 4:34 a.m. on Feb. 15. Wal-Mart would issue a press release on the decision later that morning, spurring one reader to “hope you still have a job.” (Rest assured, Chronister is still blogging on the site.)

Negative comments about Wal-Mart from readers are allowed to stand as long as they conform to the site’s decency standards and fit the discussion. Of the 90 comments in the Blu-ray post, many were from angry Toshiba HD-DVD owners who bought the now-vanquished $100 player during holiday sales at Wal-Mart.

In the “About” section of the site, Wal-Mart cites Microsoft’s Robert Scoble’s “Corporate Weblog Manifesto” from 2003 as the source of principles it follows.

The manifesto has 20 rules, but it’s a bit of a padded list with “Tell the truth” at No. 1 and “Never lie” at No. 15. Still, it certainly seems as if Wal-Mart has taken to heart Scoble’s advice to “write with a human voice.”

That voice is present in most posts. Chronister admitted she was now stuck with a Toshiba player after Wal-Mart’s decision and said others in the same situation may have to give them to their parents to “watch their old John Wayne movies in standard definition.”

A reader soon informed Chronister, “The Duke was high definition before the format was invented.”