I've been having a back-channel talk with Dennis Howlett at Bazaarz, a blog focused on European IT. The gist of the matter is around the paucity of large retail blogs. He wonders why that is and so do I. Ironically, Dennis is based in France, where we had several good retail stories including Vichy, a L'Oreal division who started a character blog, then made it better and La Fraise, a blog that sells more t-shirts than you can imagine. Over in Japan, you have Nissan selling city cars and P&G enticing housewives to try a new detergent.
But overall, retailers are lagging in blog adoption, particularly in the US where blogging has taken off at the world's most rapid rate. When Robert and I researched Naked Conversations, we only heard "not now, not ever" from two Major entities, both of them among the most prominent retailers in America. We didn't even bother approaching Wal-Mart because we could not picture them blogging.
Why is that, we wonder. And we have no definitive answer. Big retail has always lagged in technology or so it seems. It took a very long time before retail chains had PCs on most desktops, and then not until they were tied together with inventory control and purchase data systems. When the Internet came along, Bank of America beat Macy's to having a website by nearly four years.
Part of it is cultural. Macy's really does hate to tell Gimbell's anything. The fear is that competitors will steal ideas,employees, promotions all sorts of information. But then, so to large enterprises like Boeing, General Motors, EDS, Microsoft, Sun Microsystems, the Dallas Mavericks and a rising number of other non-retail corporations.
In the end, it is probably a cultural thing. Retailers like to keep card so close to their vests that they become tattoos. Mid-level managers are pressured to keep their eye on the bottom line. They are not encouraged to take the time to get into blogging as other sectors might. There's also the question of how interesting the content would be. There is a huge difference between a product manager writing about the struggle to bring something new to market and a shoe department manager explaining why the white shoes are displayed prominently at Easter.
I don't think the top retailers will e the first of sector to blog. I think it will become the act of a desperate, failing entity such as K-Mart, Sears or another tailspinner. The blog will be started after all else seems to have failed to bring customers back in. Upper management, will say, aw screw it, and give some kid a chance to try. If the blog gets traction, and the blogosphere amplifies it, then the press will notice it. Next, mainstream media will report on this odd but interesting blog.
The one day, someone at WalMart, Target or Costco will notice that the blogging companies just gained back a quarter point in a certain category, and they determine they had better start to blog as well.
Perhaps this will all happen. Perhaps not. We shall see.