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Widget What?

BY CSA STAFF

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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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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