Engaging Consumers Online

Two things were clear during a recent Web 2.0 panel discussion. First, companies need to create a Web strategy that’s in line with their business model. Second, no matter the strategy, it must include engaging the customer.

Four persons from different industries explained their company’s Web 2.0 strategies and their personal philosophies about the Web March 2 at the Fashion Institute of Technology as part of the two-day Plumb Club Forum @FIT. The panel discussion, “Retailing in the Age of Web 2.0,” was moderated by freelance journalist Scott Kirsner (pictured left).

Pinny Gniwisch, co-founder and chief marketing officer of Internet jewelry retailer Ice.com, said that he has recently had some success producing and placing videos on his site, on a dedicated page called IceTV. Gniwisch showed two of several videos he’s done: one in New York’s Times Square where he interviewed people at random; and then for Mother’s Day where he went to a Hollywood awards show and interviewed rap stars. He also has videos hosting contests with jewelry as rewards.

“I didn’t know what to expect,” he said of the public reaction of the videos. But he learned quickly that each time he shows a video, hits increase on his Web site and he receives a great deal of emails.

One thing he said he did learn as he moves forward with video is that consumers react well to videos that aren’t overproduced.

“Consumers want to interact and feel like its home grown,” he said.

Hrough his videos and other functions on the Web site he says his plan is to engage women so they feel comfortable buying jewelry for themselves.

“What we’re trying to do is change the culture of jewelry buying,” he said. “How to get that message out? How do you spread that virus? If you’re in the mood to have jewelry you can buy it for yourself. You don’t have to wait for the lazy guy to get off the couch (to buy if for you).”

Steve Larkin, senior vice president of e-commerce at Zale Direct/Zale Corp., said that his company had reservations when considering whether to add a function on the Zales and Gordon’s Jewelers Web sites that allow customers to comment and rate products—whether they bought it online or at the store.

“We had some reservations and we conceded that we are opening up the complaint department,” he said.

And they did receive complaints. But the jewelry and experience of shopping at Zales and Gordon’s also received their fare share of compliments and high ratings, which the company was not shy to use for marketing purposes.

“It added third party brand endorsement and provided us with an angle to promote those products that are top rated,” he said. “Poor ratings helped to uncover product or service problems.”

The company discontinued some items that were poorly rated and added a category on its Web sites dedicated to its best-rated products.

Catherine Levene, chief operating officer of DailyCandy, a daily newsletter and Web site that describes itself “as an insider’s guide to what’s hot, new, and undiscovered.” It has 21 editions in 12 cities. Its target audience is affluent, urban women in their 20s and 30s.

“We tend to be the place that writes about it prior to it appearing in magazines,” she said.

Levene said that Web 2.0 is about actively connecting with an audience.

“I think it really means the Web as an open platform, as the culture of generosity,” she said. “It’s about engaging with them and with each other about whatever your business is about.”

Google representative, Brian McDevitt, said that people go to the Web for a lot of reasons and the good Web sites provide what these people are looking for.

“They go be informed, educated, inspired, and entertained,” he said. “The idea is to make the content compelling enough to attract and keep these people.”

He added, “(Web 2.0) is a deeper, richer, more engaging exercise. … a deeper, richer reflection of what’s going on in day-to-day life.”