Authenticity Is Valuable
from the tell-us-what-you-really-think dept
The New York Times has a write up about Check Out, the new Wal-Mart blog that has been making waves with its blunt style. The blog’s authors are purchasing agents for the giant retailer, and they aren’t pulling their punches. “My life has not changed dramatically,” one Wal-Mart employee wrote about Vista, “well, for that matter, it hasn?t changed at all.” It’s a fascinating move on Wal-Mart’s part, and it may pay off for them. Wal-Mart has done a great deal of good for the American economy — especially low-income individuals, by improving the efficiency of the retail sector and thereby reducing the price consumers pay for almost everything. But because they’ve been so narrowly focused on improving the efficiency of their operations, they haven’t done a very good job with PR. They’re widely seen as monolithic, heartless, and and impersonal.
The new blog seems likely to pay off for the retailer in several ways. First, by making it clear that contributors are expressing their personal opinions, it gives Wal-Mart a platform to call out manufacturers who produce bad products while maintaining some distance between the blog and Wal-Mart’s official perspective. Second, by allowing comments, it allows consumers to communicate back to Wal-Mart, helping the retailer’s purchasers keep tabs on consumers’ complaints about its products. Finally, and most importantly, it may help to personalize the store and give it a reputation for candor and openness it currently lacks. This will pay off, for example, next time Wal-Mart faces a PR challenge; a widely-read blog can give the store a way to get its side of the story in a way that’s more personal and credible than a press release. The risk, obviously, is that a blogger might say something that causes flack for the company as a whole. Presumably they were careful to choose bloggers who won’t say anything too intemperate. But Wal-Mart is probably in a pretty good position on this front. It’s so huge that it doesn’t have to worry too much about alienating its suppliers; they’re going to be eager to get their products onto Wal-Mart’s shelves no matter how much they might dislike what Wal-Mart says on its blog. So it can afford to be more candid than a smaller chain that might have to worry about jeopardizing its relationships with key suppliers.