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It would make perfect sense for some big box retailers to curl up, lick, their wounds from the devastation of the 2008 holiday season, and plan for the next move. After all, reports Retail Forward today, anything that resembles improvement at retail will wait until the fourth quarter of this year.
It would also make perfect sense to take this opportunity to step it up online. The good questions to ask would regard web site experience, email marketing, customer engagement via social networks, and online marketing plans for the fall. But what we see lately is a focus on public relations, a lot of spending on in-store technology, and mobile commerce.
Mobile marketing makes sense for the short-term and long-term. But check two of the biggest of the big boxes and their focus, and go figure. WalMart is so far ahead of the sales pack that it could do anything to strengthen its position and engage more with its customers, many of which only became fans since the economy tanked. And Best Buy, which is in the envious position of losing its biggest competitor (Circuit City), is in good shape to go after its biggest new competitor, WalMart.
What we see here is WalMart doubling up on its PR effort. It should be Tweeting and Facebooking all over the internet to do that, but it's not there. Press releases about small bonuses for its salaried employees, yes. Social media efforts, no. Best Buy makes less sense. A report today says that it is ready to go after WalMart in stores. It will invest heavily in digital signage and interactive in-store displays to improve the customer experience. Its web site hasn't changed to reflect this strategy, however. And like WalMart, you won't find them on Twitter or Facebook.
The retail industry is focused on in-store technology because the retail industry wants the in-store experience to be more like the internet. It wants sales associates to have handhelds that can check inventory and comparer prices. It will have clienteling solutions that will match wardrobes, and recommend follow-up products. The in-store experience may one day get close to the internet. But ecommerce and internet user experience will be the battleground that counts. The strategy of ignoring the internet has never worked for any retailer. Never.
Update: It has been rightly pointed out to us that Best Buy is in fact engaged with social media on a number of fronts (see Gina's comment below, and associated bad noise on Twitter). We hold up our hands and say that we got this one wrong. We had previously listed Best Buy as a US retailer that used Twitter, so it was an oversight, as much as anything. We aim to find out more about how Best Buy uses social media.