If you haven’t seen this yet, take a glimpse at this presentation of the recently unveiled Google Wave at the Google I/O 2009 Conference (it’s long at 1h 20m, but watch a few minutes starting at the 4:30m mark, and you’ll get the idea).

It is the latest Google creation that may transform how we all work. In it’s simplest definition, it is the next generation of e-mail. But take a closer look, and you will quickly understand it’s way more than that - it’s the collision of email, instant messaging, wikis, blogging, video (youtube), photo albums (flickr), twitter, and much more into one single powerful collaborative tool. And ALL of this is done in a simple browser.

I expect this to be transformational, and I immediately began to think of how retailers might benefit from such a tool. Of course there are already lots of collaboration tools available in the market, but keep in mind that Google Wave is way more than that, it is:

  • Free - anyone from any computer can simply open their browser and have access to all of this.
  • Real-time - and when I say real-time, I mean real-time. Character by character, it is instantly displayed on the receiver(s)’ computer.
  • Everything all in one - no separate components for email, instant messaging, blogging, tweeting, etc.
  • All about a conversation - track every comment or reply in its appropriate place within the thread and specify who can or cannot see the reply. Also provides complete playback capability that allows you to step through a conversation from the beginning, one comment/reply at a time.
  • Open Source - anyone can add more services/features to this, making it increasingly powerful. In typical Google fashion - they have created the foundation and will let the rest of the world improve on it!

Retailers with locations, employees, and customers across states, the country, and possibly the world, have a lot to benefit from all this. This tool is really about having conversations. Conversations that others can participate in and build upon. Conversations can consist of 2 participants or an entire organization, where everyone can participate in the conversation and follow along in a very flexible and powerful way. So with that in mind, here is my list of 12 ways that I can see retailers benefiting from Google Wave:

  1. Education - Companies have always been good at delivering big binders/documents of policies, procedures, rules, etc. What if they can tailor those online documents to certain groups of employees? What if employees can post comments/questions right in the appropriate point of a document, where HR or other employees can respond? This is sort of like an FAQ, but organized in an ongoing conversation.
  2. Product information - Buyers have stories to tell about their collections and products. Everyone in the organization can benefit from this information and then add their own comments/feedback. All of this information can be shared with everyone and buyers can learn from others.
  3. Training materials - provide all training materials online that can be viewed and shared by all staff. Documents, videos, online conferencing, and employee feedback. Others can learn from what has worked best or not for others.
  4. Product warnings - Inform your customers quickly with warnings of any product defects or potential hazards.
  5. Customer invitations - Invite your customers to special events and upcoming promotions.
  6. Customer feedback - Request customer feedback and let employees and other customers to respond. This information will be totally transparent and shared by all.
  7. Customer polls/surveys - Conduct quick polls or surveys with your employees and customers. This will give you quick and instantaneous feedback on how things are going or testing out a new idea or strategy.
  8. Share selling tips/techniques - Store employees can share their own tips on product benefits or selling techniques.
  9. Store competitions - District or store managers can start competitions for employees or stores at a whim, and track the results.
  10. Collaborative charity events - Start/promote charity events, locally or nationally, where employees and customers can easily participate.
  11. Employee blogging/tweeting - Provides a platform for employees to express themselves through blogging and tweeting. Employees can share their personal stories and experiences with other employees and customers.
  12. Suggestion box - How about an online transparent suggestion box, where employees or customers can make recommendations, and then HR or other managers can provide their feedback.

These are just a few ideas that came to mind. Any of these or other components/widgets can be added to Google Wave. What would you suggest? How would you like to see retailers use a tool like this?