Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Future Shop Jumps on Social Networking Bandwagon

Online social networking is a growing trend: more and more people are using the Web to communicate, share, and get information. In recognition of this, Future Shop has jumped on board with its own, online community forum. I doubt Facebook or MySpace is shaking in its Web-networking boots, but from a retail perspective, it’s great to see a Canadian company take a bold step in fostering open, customer communication.

An industry conference I recently attended in NYC alluded to the importance of such open communication. “Invite conversation instead of demanding attention,” recommended John Batelle, founder of Federated Media. He aptly calls the current state of affairs the “Conversation Economy.”

Customers can visit the Future Shop forum (accessible via, and chat with others about products, ask questions, share stories, and throw in their own two cents. Available in both English- and French (there’s a separate forum for each), the conversations are monitored by an Avatar (i.e. a virtual “host” and product expert).

Several topic categories are available, ranging from gaming, to home theatre, and car audio. There’s even a spot for general, “off-topic” feedback. For example, one visitor posted “product suggestions”: stuff she’d like to see stocked on Future Shop shelves. Following the initial post, 10 others chimed in with their own “wish lists”. Sure, it isn’t realistic to think that Future Shop buyers are agonizing over these requests, taking notes, or getting on the phone right away to add SKUs to store shelves. But to allow such an open discussion helps consumers feel like they have a voice.

I took a quick look at the site. Currently, the top question is whether one should choose the PlayStation 3 or the Xbox 360. So far, 23 responses have been posted, each with a clear opinion. The "featured" question is a debate between Blu-ray, HD-DVD, and “standard” DVD. Sure, not all of the opinions are fully educated ones: some are based on fact (via references to legitimate publications like Twice or Marketnews!), some on opinion, and others on sheer misinformation. Many even originate from Future Shop sales associates across the country, who clearly identify themselves. Each comment can also be rated on a scale of 1-5. But every opinion is valuable, whether it prompts someone to pipe in and clarify with facts; or allow someone to play devil's advocate.

The point is: people are talking about technology. And that’s always a good thing for the industry.

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