Burpee Growing into Web Innovator

W. Atlee Burpee may be a 130-year-old company, but it considers itself an innovative enterprise. After all, if it could develop products like iceberg lettuce, fordhook lima beans and yellow squash, surely it can keep up with the Web 2.0 phenomenon.

“In general, if you see a trend with Burpee’s online attitude, it’s that we want to be an open and adopting company,” Ethan Holland, director of e-commerce at Burpee, told ClickZ News. “We built our brand on innovation, so to continue that online is important as new customers come in though that channel.”

That’s why the gardening cataloger is embracing new publishing technology and trends like RSS and user-generated content, working to build a community around its products.

The most recent sign of Burpee’s focus on innovation is its addition of user-generated content in the form of product reviews. This builds upon the company’s two-year history of soliciting photos from customers, an effort that Holland says has yielded more than 2,000 photos thus far. Burpee shows off those pictures in a “Garden Showcase” section of its site, linking to the product pages of plants shown in the photos.

“One of the things that anybody in a hobby such as gardening likes to do is share,” said Don Zeidler, director of direct marketing at Burpee. “It’s sharing of your trials and tribulations and asking for advice.”

The ratings and reviews functionality came through a deal with technology and services firm Bazaarvoice. Bazaarvoice’s “plug and play” technology, which lets companies add reviews with just a few lines of code in their site templates, was a big factor for Burpee.

“For us to manage something like this in-house is almost impossible,” said Holland, who adds that the Web site team consists of just “a handful” of employees. “We don’t do much co-development in-house, plus we outsource with a third-party e-commerce vendor.”

Though the company won’t say how many reviews have been posted thus far, Holland says it’s been “a steady stream,” and adds “we’re happy with the volume.”

­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­”We can’t create review content ourselves. It’s very candid. When they’re positive, we could never write anything so nice,” said Holland. “As far as negative reviews go, we appreciate those too. We don’t think anyone can be an ostrich, especially online.”

Besides adopting user reviews, the company is leveraging the content in its RSS feed. An early adopter of the technology, the company has had a feed for 16 months and now has more than 10,000 subscribers.

“Most of our featured products now are bundled with a review,” said Holland. “We’re heavily featuring the reviews as content in the RSS feed.”

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