Circuit City Goes Social

was an early adopter of product reviews and ratings, even before they became an online staple. Now the consumer-electronics retailer wants in on the fast-growing world of social networking.

The Richmond, Va.-based multichannel electronics company is among the first retailers to jump into the virtual-community phenomenon by launching an interactive site for shoppers and sales associates, called CityCenter Community.

Powered by Austin, Texas-based Pluck Corp., shoppers can share photos, ideas and preferences on home entertainment, computers and electronics. They can fill out a profile—similar to a MySpace format—and even choose an avatar that reflects their persona and appearance. In addition to making connections and chatting with others on message boards, shoppers can also ask Circuit City staff members questions to help troubleshoot product and installation issues.

The site also features blogs, photo galleries and forums, which are crawling with consumers eager to discuss the latest in electronics. Many members have already reached out and developed relationships with customer-service specialists who are logged in around the clock.

Although the site acts as a tool for both its average and expert tech shoppers, it’s too early to tell what the site wants to be. Some of the forums pose questions regarding certain products, like flat-screen TVs and cameras, while others discuss what type of beer is favored among CityCenter members.

Meanwhile, the photo-gallery section allows members to upload personal images—a feature popular on many social-networking sites—but the incentive is unclear: Why upload pictures onto a retailer’s site?

But questions aside, Circuit City is on to something. Its forums are a breeding ground for customer feedback—and this is one of their strongest points. Members are more than willing to dish up the details on what they like and dislike on the site. Circuit City has opened the floodgates, but now they need to listen up.

The retailer is reaching out to multi-channel consumers who prefer to get questions answered online rather than in a store or over the phone, but the response time is not always immediate—especially with only three or four staff associates assigned to the project. Members have already posted complaints on the site, requesting either a private or communal live chat option to interact with other members and associates.

Others have noted that the forum pages take almost 20 to 25 seconds longer to load compared to Circuit City’s previous message boards. And the site requires members to sign in whenever they close the browser, without an option to store their log-in information.

What’s remarkable, however, is the number of people who take the time to make suggestions on how Circuit City should correct these problems. Since many users abandon sites after lengthy loading lags and re-occurring issues, it’s evident that these members truly want it to succeed.

When complaints are made, it’s normally done with the intent to point Circuit City in the right direction. For example, one member said: “Since the new forums came along, things are really slow around here; slow as in not much activity in the Desktop Computer [category] forums. Sometimes we go days without a new topic or any talk.”

But rather than slamming the site, members jumped in with tips on how the retailer could spark new topic ideas and entice more members, such as adding reward programs, prize giveaways and daily polls. Another member even outlined a lengthy proposal on how to better organize the site by breaking down the forum pages by question category.

CityCenter has the potential to be a hot new site in the retail world. It just has to implement feedback from its customers and not steer too far from what it knows best: electronics.