The online retail industry is seeing opportunity in the blog boom. Retailers are creating blogs - a term derived from Web logs, or online musings - to promote brand awareness and sales.
For instance Bluefly.com, an online retailer of designer clothes, updates customers on fashion-related news through its blog Flypaper (www.flypaper.bluefly.com).
The blog "encourages them to visit often to check postings on styles, designers and fashion faux pas," says Melissa Payner-Gregor, CEO of Bluefly.com. The company's fashion spotters around the country post items on Flypaper, which launched in April.
Flypaper's customers typically have relied for fashion news on magazines such as Vogue. Now, they also have the blog as an information source, and the company has an opportunity for an interactive relationship.
It is potentially a lucrative one. A recent study by online market research firm ComScore Networks found that shoppers who visit blogs spend about 6% more than the average online shopper.
Payner-Gregor says that result is in line with Bluefly's experience. "The people who spend time on our blog are the people who are ... the very top customers that we have," says the former CEO of fashion catalog Spiegel. Among other retailers blogging:
EHobbies. The online seller of radio-controlled toys, plastic models, kites, science kits and other hobby goods, posts news and enticements, such as the early delivery of the Batmobile, in a blog on its site at www.ehobbies.com.
GourmetStation. The online retailer of prepared foods created its blog, Delicious Destinations (www.gourmetstation.com), to post ideas about food, entertaining, gifts and culture. A current posting details ways to serve salmon - whole or filet - and fun food discussions on topics such as the shapes of pasta, history of tea and setting a table.
"Our initial goal was to build the brand with value-added content such as information about the region where the food originates," says Donna Lynes-Miller, GourmetStation president and founder. "In the long term, people will appreciate what we're doing, become a repeat customer and tell others."
The ComScore study also found that the average visitor to a blog is a user who spends nearly 23 hours a week online, vs.13 hours a week for the average Internet user. It attributes the added time to the lure of the ongoing dialogue of blogs.
The retail industry's first foray into online marketing was the viral strategies that grew up in the late 1990s, as shopping over the Internet began to take hold. Viral marketing, the use of which continues to increase, seeks to increase brand awareness by getting Internet users to spread the message to other users. Blogs offer retailers more control of the message, as well as a more personal exchange.
"There's a huge movement of consumer-generated media, whereby retailers don't have a voice," Forrester Research analyst Carrie Johnson says. "But a blog at least lets retailers be part of the conversation and respond to consumer-generated comments."
To be effective, however, retailers can't be sloppy with their message. It must stress customer service to be successful - the message gets dismissed if it's no more than an ad, says market researcher Britt Beemer of America's Research Group.
Blogs can help ease a shopper's fears when considering a purchase from an unknown retailer. The postings and responses from other customers give the prospective customer a glimpse of the retailer's practices and customer satisfaction.
"It's the ultimate credibility to say, 'Go see who we are,' " says Neil Stern, senior partner at McMillan/Doolittle Retail Consultants.