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Embracing the Widget

BY CSA STAFF

The growth of social networks and personalized Web sites are making it harder for multichannel retailers to connect with online consumers. To stay on their shoppers’ radar, The North Face is taking steps to reach them where they already spend time online.

“Getting content out to consumers is a challenge because people need a reason to go to a site,” said Sarah Gallagher, senior manager of interactive marketing, The North Face, San Leandro, Calif. “We wanted a way for them to interact with the brand and our content even if they weren’t on our site.”

That’s when the company began exploring the power of widgets—which are small interactive applications, ranging from games to news alerts, that can be downloaded onto host sites such as Facebook or iGoogle.

Eager to reach consumers on a daily basis, The North Face developed a widget with the help of San Francisco-based Fluid Inc., a digital-product-development firm specializing in rich Internet applications and e-commerce solutions.

In November 2007, the widget went live as The North Face launched its “Video of the Day” application. After a consumer downloads the widget onto iGoogle, a box appears on the host site that is sponsored by The North Face. It displays fresh user-contributed clips or video from the retailer’s own Snowsports team for consumers to watch.

The widget features an interactive merchandising component that allows consumers to explore an assortment of products while watching the video. The North Face is able to micro-target merchandise to the community where the widget is deployed.

It can push skiing, climbing or hiking merchandise to appropriate users. This allows the retailer to keep its customer relationships fresh and meaningful.

“We also want to make sure our consumers are always in touch with our communities so we deliver information about relevant athletes, sponsoring events and provide overall value to our audience,” Gallagher said.

“It’s one thing to have this content on The North Face site, but it’s another to reach out to people who are already involved in these communities of interest and allow them to subscribe to it,” Gallagher said. “This becomes a pipeline for us to push content to people who’ve self-identified as deeply interested in the topic, products, company and content.”

The North Face decided to integrate video into its widget because it sees it as the No. 1 growing Web 2.0 phenomenon.

“A lot of these sports are highly visual, but video takes this one step further,” Gallagher noted.

Click-through rates on Google ads have jumped, but consumers have yet to spend significant dollars through widgets. Unfazed, The North Face hopes to get a head start on this emerging trend, which is still in its infancy.

“Right now, the majority of shoppers want to make their online purchases on a Web site,” Gallagher said. “But widgets are a way to connect them to the content, products and community while engaging them with a deeper brand experience. And as people become more familiar with widgets and the security technology that surrounds them, we’ll see people making purchases through widgets in the future.”

The North Face is planning to expand its widget application to multiple social-networking platforms. “Social networking is evolving into one of the most dominant paradigms for how people interact online, and how content is distributed,” Gallagher said. “To keep up, social networking will need to become a prime platform for us to interact with potential consumers.”

“Right now, we are creating a lot of engaging content, but it’s important to figure out the most relevant content and get it to the right communities,” she added.

The North Face plans to gauge the results of its widget initiative before implementing it for other sports and on other social-networking platforms.

“Social networking is evolving into one of the most dominant paradigms for how people interact online, and how content is distributed,” Gallagher said. “To keep up, social networking will need to become a prime platform for us to interact with potential consumers.”

“Right now, we are creating a lot of engaging content, but it’s important to figure out the most relevant content and get it to the right communities,” she added.

The North Face plans to gauge the results of its widget initiative before implementing it for other sports and on other social-networking platforms.

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Wal-Mart to sell earth-friendly CDs

BY CSA STAFF

SANTA MONICA, Calif. As part of Wal-Mart’s “Earth Month” the company is selling more than 20 Universal Music Group titles that come with special earth-friendly inserts. The inserts are made with special seed paper and, according to the companies, can actually bloom into wildflowers.

The inserts, in addition to being good for the environment, also offer consumers three free digital downloads from Universal Music. Universal also said that a number of its new CDs will be packaged in third-party certified, renewable recycled board and recyclable paper.

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ODP urges rejection of Levan nominees

BY CSA STAFF

DELRAY BEACH, Fla. Office Depot is continuing to urge its shareholders to reject dissident nominees and elect the company’s nominees to its board of directors at its annual shareholders meeting this April.

In a proxy statement sent to investors, Office Depot said that Alan Levan’s proposed nominees would do little to help improve shareholder value. According to the statement, Levan’s company, Levitt Corp. has seen its share price fall about 93% over the past three years and that its subsidiary, Levitt and Sons, is in bankruptcy. Office Depot also noted that BankAtlantic, of which Levan is chairman and ceo and one of his nominees, is president of real estate, construction and development, share price has dropped approximately 75% over the past three years.

Office Depot also cited news reports that commented on Levan’s failing business ventures, as well as others that said that his nominees are not qualified to serve on Office Depot’s board of directors.

The company pointed out nominee Mark Begelman’s experience with Mars Music, a company he founded in 1997 that went bankrupt in 2002. According to Office Depot, many news reports attributed this failure to a flawed business strategy.

According to Office Depot, when Levan’s other nominee, Martin Hanaka served as chairman of Sports Authority from 1998 to 2003, the company saw its price fall by about 13%.

Office Depot stressed that its directors best understand the company and are well-suited to help the company grow.

“We strongly believe that removing two of the most experienced retailing executives from our board, including our current ceo who is driving the implementation of our strategic turnaround plan, would be highly disruptive, could delay the implementation of internal and external initiatives and could damage prospects for a successful turnaround,” Office Depot said in the proxy statement.

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