Wednesday, September 27, 2006

MeeboMe - Low cost consumer chat?

I've personally been a big fan of online consumer chat for retail sites, both as a user and in past roles as an ecommerce manager. I think that this kind of real-time contact with a knowledgable customer service agent, in context... is invaluable. Most research also backs up my belief, since it is a leading way to reduce the fear inherent in some ecommerce transactions. It also provides yet another one-to-one touchpoint for your organization, something that in our connected economy the consumer is still wanting.

But, the question has always come up... how can you cost justify the expense of putting in a system for this, when a lot of the "benefit" is "perceived" or "soft." I think I just found my answer to that question in the form of my favorite "Web 2.0" tool: MEEBO.

For those of you who don't know, MEEBO is a great tool to log into all of the major instant messaging networks, from one browser window. While other pieces of software like Trillian and GAIM do the same kind of thing, MEEBO does it all from a Browser Window. You don't have to install anything on your machine. Go to, login (or not!) and go. A little over a month ago MEEBO introduced a little widget called "MEEBOME" that you can embed into your site, and start an instant chat session with the "host." I saw on the MEEBO BLOG today a note where one retailer is using this as a way to do online chat with their customers... brilliant!!!!! This gives you the proof of concept any retailer would need, provides you with a cost effecient way to reach out to your customers within the context of the shopping expereience... and did I mention that its free?

If you're a smaller retailer online, or any smaller business that's online for that matter... what a GREAT way to "expose" your "experts" to your customer base. I could envision SO many ways to use this tool. If you have some ideas, post them in the comments or better yet MEEBOME in the column to the right!

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Playing "Fair"

Life in the online retail and apparel business CAN be fair. At least that's the premise that Bill Bass, former Lands End eRetailing expert thought when he decided what to "do next." Bass and some of his former Lands End co-horts have debuted a new brand/site/catalog called Fair Indigo which is selling Fair Trade clothing and accessories for Men and Women.

Bass was the driving force behind both the discipline and innovation that the eCommerce team at Lands End was famous for. This overwhelming success in converting Lands End from a nice sized cataloger to a Multi-channel powerhouse started with Bass' vision of how people prefer to shop, and carried through from there. This was the key reason why Sears decided they needed to buy Lands End and adopt many of the online tactics that Lands End had used to grow... in order to make Sears a major online retail player.

His new venture is interesting. After leaving Sears, he formed a group called Black Wolf Group and invested in a moving company in the Southwest. All the while however, people were talking... they knew that he wouldn't go too far from the online apparel space and at some point, you knew that he'd have an original idea. Now the proverbial cat is out of the bag; Fair Indigo has debuted not with a large national ad campaign... but a website and some interviews. Grass roots. I doubt seriously you'll ever see a Fair Indigo ad on the superbowl show but, I do think you might see Fair Indigo take the "red bull" route to marketing and commercial success. Viral marketing, email, sponsoring events that are eco-friendly, all aimed at a market that is growing and growing.

And... his first generation site... nothing to sneeze at for sure. A PHP-based site (imagine that... a new world company using open source) with all kinds of AJAX tricks. Great zoom, wonderful product photography, a really cool conditional text/back order feature... overall a very concise and easy experience. I predict that Fair Indigo will "Fare" well. I know for one, I'll be buying one of their tee shirts to support the cause (As soon as I can get it in a Large...).

Wanna learn more? Check out these links:

Fair Indigo Foundation
Wisconsin Business Article (09/15/06)