Sainsbury's Embrace 'Web 2.0' By Encouraging Customer Dialogue

AKQA, Sainsbury's current digital agency, has created a market-leading dialogue area to the supermarket chain's online presence. Put simply, they've opened a 'Your Ideas' forum to "create a community around the brand" according to Andrew McCormick in this week's NMA (29.06.06).

Of course many of us are aware of the predicted explosion in user-generated content and social community sites (as demonstrated by MySpace, Bebo and Playahead) but this is one of the first occurences I've come accross where a major retailer is keen to get their customer base to contribute to content.

Thus far it's pretty basic stuff (and not exactly Web 2.0 since much of the technology has existed since the early days of the web) in that customers are posting recipes and discussing "food related topics". Presumably this means bored people ranting about the Cadbury scandal and showing off their homemade Spotted Dick. The key with this move is that it promotes the chain as being technology aware (especially given their late arrival on the home shopping scene) and a brand that's trusted and talked about by its consumers. The most revolutionary element is of course the opportunity for customers to discuss the relative (de)merits of Sainsbury's. Thier brand manager, Kirstey Elston is quoted as saying: "We're happy for customers to share openly what they think about Sainsbury's".

All this is very laudible but do Sainsbury's need to run these sites themselves? I am a great believer of leaving this type of content on independant sites, amongst the true user-community. then use technology to trawl the web looking for reviews, forums and blogs. That way people will comment in the positive, negative and laissez faire without the natural sense of moderation that using an 'official' forum would give. By using Web Data Mining all this information can be quantified and extracted by insight teams. Of course, doing it all in-house is faster and possibly cheaper but do the views expressed on such official user-communities really reflect the widest range of customer opinion? I'm not convinced.

I like Sainsbury's (although the Waitrose in Sudbury is great, 45 mins away though...) but their online shopping requires a minimum order of £25 and a delivery charge of £6. Often I just want a few bits, ordered mid-week and Tesco can do that. So we use them, until Sainsbury's sort out their pricing for this and until Ocado deliver to my area I'll continue touse Tesco. And that is in spite of the fact that Tesco have let me down with late deliveries and peculiar substitutions on several occassions. (A comparison review of the Customer Experience with online grocers is available here.)

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