Widget What?


Truth be told, the word widget reminds me of a character you would find in a “Gremlins” movie. But during the eTail 2008 conference, held Feb. 12-13 in Palm Desert, Calif., you couldn’t escape predictions about how these small software applications could impact the retail world.

Widgets are interactive applications, ranging from games to news alerts, that can be downloaded onto host sites such as Facebook or iGoogle (Google’s homepage that can be customized and personalized to meet your interests).

First, here’s why widgets may have a place in retail: With social-networking sites on the rise, some retailers such as Circuit City are launching similar sites of their own. But with so many successful and engaging social-networking sites already available, many debate why a consumer would choose to go social on a retailer’s site, especially if a company might be moderating and monitoring their online interactions.

Panelists at the session, “Taking a Deep Dive Into the Future of Community: The Convergence of Retail and Community-Building Online,” said retailers should engage consumers where they are already socializing—and widgets may be their way in.

Pinny Gniwisch, senior VP of marketing at online jeweler Ice.com , noted how some consumers are already adding retail-inspired widgets to their Facebook profile pages.

“Since widgets are easy to implement and directly pull content to those who want to receive it, it’s only a matter a time before the industry will further adopt them,” Gniwisch said.

With more than 14,000 competing widgets now on Facebook, retailers that want to make an impression in this crowded marketplace need to think creatively.

They can take a lesson from The Lemonade Stand, one of the most fascinating widgets on Facebook. Developed by South Norwalk, Conn.-based Lemonade Inc., the free application contains more than 2 million products from retailers, including Apple, Macy’s, Wal-Mart, Nordstrom, Tiger Direct and Lands’ End, for Facebook members to recommend and share with friends.

The most unique aspect of this widget is that Lemonade Stand owners can make money by sharing in the commission from the sale of products and advertising placements. This gives them more incentive to display products on their Lemonade Stand. (Commissions on product sales vary by retailer, and payouts for specific offers change on a daily basis.)

These Facebook members can also add different retail offers and advertisements to their stand, including free shipping, discounts and seasonal specials. They can also add this widget to their blog or personal Web site.

Rather than tap into existing widgets such as The Lemonade Stand, some retailers are developing their own widgets for sites like Facebook.

For example, Newton, Mass.-based National Jean Co. recently debuted a widget to share photos of celebrities wearing the brands’ jeans. Users can rate the styles and share them with friends. Victoria’s Secret also has a widget, “Which Victoria’s Secret Angel Are You?,” that delivers quizzes about personal style and trends.

Facebook members can do a search for retail-inspired widgets directly on the site or add them to their profile by clicking on their friends’ applications.

These are only a few examples of how retailers are starting to reach and engage with consumers in innovative ways. And if the conference buzz holds true, widget interest and adoption will only grow bigger this year.

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