Puppies in the Window

News

A retailer’s Web site, and specifically its homepage, can serve as a powerful virtual store window. Sure, it can feature product pushes and helpful search tools, but retailers too often focus on selling items rather than on maximizing the experience. Companies would do well to study sites that become instant Web sensations and draw millions of returning visitors, and apply similar strategies to their own virtual storefronts.

Take this example: After President-elect Barack Obama announced on election night that his family would be bringing a new puppy into the White House, the news ignited a sense of puppy fever nationwide. Soon after, the Obamas started to receive puppy-adoption offers from various sources and were continually asked when the new pet would officially join the family. (The answer: Not until late winter/early spring, once they get settled after the inauguration.)

With puppies top-of-mind, a new viral site began making its way around the Internet. A San Francisco couple looking to keep a watchful eye on their dog’s new litter set up a live puppy cam on popular site UStream.TV , featuring six adorable Shiba Inus.

The feed initially attracted more than 1,000 viewers who logged on to watch the pups play, eat and even sleep. The site caught on like wildfire, attracting several million views in total (and an average of 20,000 people watching online at a time). It’s safe to say that America formed an attachment to the litter, learning their names, habits and personalities, and continually came back to the site to check in on them.

It’s amazing how a concept so simple ignited such a national phenomenon. The puppies weren’t for sale at the time (nor were the toys they played with), but I immediately wondered if a business concept could be tied to this: Would a bidding war ensue for ownership of the puppies? Could sales skyrocket for squeaky toys, if they were available for purchase?

Using online video to implement an idea like the puppy cam could truly differentiate a retailer looking to stand out in a crowded marketplace. All retailers may not have puppies for sale, but there are endless opportunities for those looking to attract consumers back to their sites.

For example, if a retailer sells cookware, it should consider filming a series of live episodes of a chef cooking with and testing the products. Why not take it even further by setting up chat rooms and message boards to encourage community interaction?

Similar to the live Times Square camera that allows Web users to watch the busy street scene from all over the globe, retailers such as Macy’s, for example, could set up a similar video feature on its site that monitors its Herald Square location during the holidays. Online shoppers could easily pick up on the excitement of the highly trafficked store and note how the company’s goods are in demand. (And they could also be thankful to shop online without having to wait in those lines.)

There is so much potential here for retailers. If a simple puppy-cam site can lure millions of viewers in a matter of weeks (perhaps at the price of just a video camera), imagine how your company could spark a Web phenomenon to attract the masses.

So what’s in your virtual storefront window, and are you making the most of it?

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