Blogger Thwarts PriceRitePhoto ID Change

When PriceRitePhoto came under attack in the blogosphere several weeks ago after a tech blogger known as "Thomas Hawk" posted complaints about the company online, the e-commerce store was left facing ruin. It was delisted from PriceGrabber.com and Yahoo! Shopping, and angry consumers attacked the store's Web site. At the time, Howard Baker, a manager at PriceRitePhoto, told OMD that the store had lost "millions" in two days.

But several short weeks later, PriceRitePhoto appeared to come up with a solution. It re-emerged as "Barclay's Photo," re-registered its store on eBay under that name, and seemingly registered the new domain name BarclaysPhoto.com.

The strategy, however, didn't work as planned, thanks to Hawk, who again outed the company Wednesday.

"So welcome to the new world of online shopping Barclay's Photo. Hopefully you do better than your evil twin (er, exact same company) PriceRitePhoto," the blogger wrote on Wednesday.

Whether bloggers target Barclay's Photo as forcefully as they did PriceRitePhoto remains to be seen. Generally, however, industry observers say that the rapid discovery of Barclay's identity shows that smaller marketers--those without brand equity in their names--can no longer easily change their identities.

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A search of Barclay's eBay profile reveals six different monikers since 2000--although one was necessitated by a change in eBay policy prohibiting companies from using a "com" in their names.

While eBay displays user reviews for all known names of a store, not all shopping Web sites do the same--which, in the past, gave small marketers reason to believe that a name change could get them out from under a dark cloud.

Today, however, too many bloggers act as watchdogs for this technique to work, according to industry observers.

"It's increasingly difficult to play the stealth game," said Pete Blackshaw, chief marketing officer for buzz-monitoring firm Intelliseek. "Too many consumers and bloggers have high-tech surveillance tools at their disposal to out folks that try to trick the system," he said. "You can only run away from your reputation for so long in the age of bloggers."

JupiterResearch Senior Analyst Vikram Sehgal added that the connectivity of the online space also makes it easier for customers to track down business aliases. "Information is much more easily accessible online for consumers," he said. "Blogs are becoming really popular as a way of letting people know your views. Intuitively it is easier to do instead of putting up posters outside of the store you had a bad experience with."

An eBay spokeswoman said that although eBay places no restrictions on the number of times a merchant may change its user name, the feedback they receive follows them unless the merchant starts an entirely new business. She said the policy's purpose is to prevent manipulation of feedback. "When patterns have developed, then at some point it becomes possible for us to detect that," she said. "We have a lot of filters in place to prevent feedback manipulation. The policies we have in place are to protect buyers and sellers."

PriceRitePhoto/Barclay's feedback on eBay is solid, with 99.1 percent positive reviews out of more than 5,000, as of Thursday evening. Other sites--which had delisted Barclay's--showed a more mixed record several weeks ago.

Calls to PriceRitePhoto/Barclay's were not returned.

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