The New York Times today ran the article below on the growth of Blogs by e-tailers. It is a pretty interesting trend and we agree with the quote by the President of eHobbies that they main the Blog to be accessible to their customers. This way you can always know what we are thinking and reading.
July 4, 2005

E-COMMERCE REPORT

Blogging While Browsing, but Not Buying

By BOB TEDESCHI

 

NEXT
on board the blogging bandwagon: e-tailer.

Online merchants are starting to test Web logs, which are akin to online diaries, in hopes of giving their stores more personality and giving customers a reason to return even when they’re not in the mood to buy. But for companies like Bluefly.com, eHobbies, Ice.com and others, blogs are so far afield from typical retail functions that they will take time to master.

Take eHobbies. The site, which sells remote-controlled helicopters and other toys for grown-ups, added a blog in May, where it posts photos from trade shows and shots of employees. The captions range from boosterish to boring; many of the links on the blog lead to an eHobbies product page.

“There’s a lot of good stuff in doing the blog, and some not-so-good stuff,” said Seth Greenberg, chief executive of the company, which is based in La Mirada, Calif.

Mr. Greenberg said the blog allowed eHobbies to project the homespun image that sometimes eluded even small companies like his, which has only 25 employees. “It lets us pull back the curtain and show how we’re a company of hobbyists who love participating in the things they’re buyers for,” he said. “It humanizes us.”

In addition to featuring the link to the blog at the top of the eHobbies home page, the company will soon begin promoting the blog in e-mail messages to customers, and hiding coupon codes in the blog to give people incentives to visit, Mr. Greenberg said.

“Hobbyists are a little strange,” Mr. Greenberg said. “They’ll like things like that.”

The blog’s visuals will also improve markedly from the current collection, which are pictures taken with Mr. Greenberg’s cameraphone. In the coming months, it will feature audio and video clips of hobbyists and their toys.

So far, at least, Mr. Greenberg said he had not encountered any significant disadvantages in blogging, aside from the occasional difficulty of posting pictures to the site. But analysts see pitfalls in these retail narratives.

If sites do not closely track and edit visitor comments, they may expose themselves to backlash from readers who see inappropriate language, or they could lose prospective customers who read scorching reviews, said Kenneth Cassar, an analyst with the Internet consultancy Nielsen//NetRatings. He noted, though, that vigilant editing could prevent such mishaps.

More importantly, Mr. Cassar said, sites must figure out how to keep customers from straying from the store to the blog without ever returning to shop. Because typical blogs feature links to articles elsewhere on the Web, they can represent a one-way ticket away from the site.

Such is the dilemma faced by executives of Ice.com, an online jeweler based in Montreal. Ice.com has created three blogs in the last six months: a celebrity jewelry site (SparkleLikeTheStars.com), a question-and-answer site (JustAskLeslie.com) and a company news site (blog.ice.com).

Shmuel Gniwisch, Ice.com’s chief executive, said the company was “having an internal struggle” about whether to put links to its blogs on Ice.com itself. Currently, people reach them through search engines and links from other blogs.

“Our blog people want the links on our site, but our brand people say it’ll take people off the site,” Mr. Gniwisch said. “We’ll probably test it and see what it does.”

Within the blogs, of course, Ice.com could merely delete links that lead anywhere but the store. “But then it’s not a blog,” Mr. Gniwisch said. “This is about community, and giving people enough information to make a better decision.”

Mr. Gniwisch said the blogs attracted “thousands of visitors” a week, but the effect on sales was unclear. “Technically, this is a very soft sell,” he said. “We’re intending to build awareness of our product, so if sales come, great. If not, it’s also good.”

Executives at Bluefly.com, the discount apparel e-tailer, credit their blog (Flypaper.bluefly.com) with bringing in new customers. Flypaper, which was introduced in April and features postings – sometimes more than one a day – on anything fashion-related, “is bringing some very positive things,” said Melissa Payner, the chief executive.

Among other things, Ms. Payner said, Flypaper visitors who click to Bluefly have been more likely to make a purchase than those who visit Bluefly directly.

Ms. Payner said Flypaper reflected the company’s firmer resolve to cater to women who cared about what was currently fashionable, instead of selling discounted clothes that might or might not still be in vogue. Ms. Payner, who spearheaded that shift when she took the chief executive’s job last year, sought to craft the blog in the image of the company’s merchants, whom she characterized as “obsessed with fashion.”

And so, in the course of a given day, Flypaper might feature pictures of the singer Lauryn Hill’s new hairdo, runway models in the latest Milan show or full-length shots of random, fashionable pedestrians, accompanied by snappy commentary. As with other e-commerce blogs, Flypaper is written by employees in their free time – a task Ms. Payner said her staff welcomed.

Blogging software, meanwhile, is available free, or, for more sophisticated versions, at prices in the range of $15 monthly. Those economics are attractive in an industry that is trying to curb spending.

Among e-commerce companies that have spawned blogs, that of GoDaddy.com, the Internet domain sales and hosting company, is perhaps the most controversial. Written by the chief executive and owner of GoDaddy, Bob Parsons, the blog attracts between 4,000 and 10,000 daily visitors, Mr. Parsons said. A link to it is featured at the top of the GoDaddy.com home page.

In the blog, Mr. Parsons muses on topics ranging from Guantanamo Bay to the company’s Super Bowl commercial. In his Guantanamo Bay posting earlier this month, Mr. Parsons defended the government’s interrogation techniques – a position he adjusted after many reader complaints.

“People said they’d never do business with me again, and tell their friends, neighbors and pets to do the same,” Mr. Parsons said. “It also worked in the opposite direction. But you know what? It defines my company for people, so they can understand why we do things the way we do them.”

He added, “I feel good that for a lot of people, when they’re doing business with me – it’s not just some name with a URL on the Internet.”