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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, October 29, 2006

Walmart.com redesign is first step in makeover

By LAURA PETRECCA
USA Today

Wal-Mart Stores has launched an overhauled Web site designed to burnish Wal-Mart's brand image as well as improve the shopping experience.

The redesign, involving more than 2 million Web pages, aims to look more sophisticated with larger, sharper images, and to offer more product details and faster checkout. The site will be more interactive, offering pop-up boxes with information on some products, as well as increased streaming video. For example, the site will be able to stream shows of its new fashions.

The new site is a major step in the company's efforts to attract a wider range of patrons. Wal-Mart is wrapping up a review of how its $580 million annual ad account is spent and will select as early as this week a lead ad agency.

Wal-Mart is trying to stretch its image beyond being a place to get low-priced toothpaste. It wants to be known for fashionable apparel and big-ticket items, such as electronics.

"We're a strong place for food and basic necessities," says marketing officer John Fleming. "We have an opportunity to go beyond that."

About 30 percent of fiscal 2006 sales at Wal-Mart stores were in grocery, candy and tobacco, according to financial filings. Electronics were just 10 percent. The Web is seen as key to the effort.

"Walmart.com is our biggest and most visible store," Fleming says. "When selling plasma TVs or home furnishings, price alone isn't enough. We have to talk about the product itself and the overall experience (of using it). The online channel gives us a great chance to tell that story."

Among goals for the redesign:

  • Encourage multiple purchases. Features aim to "stimulate cross-category purchases," says Walmart.com CEO Carter Cast. For instance, clicking on a picture of a baby's room reveals details of the items, ranging from $20 to $300.

  • Boost sales of more complex products. Improved "click-to-compare" options will let buyers size up brands in a category, such as digital cameras. More-detailed information such as price, size and color will pop up in boxes when the mouse rolls over select items. Wal-Mart is extending its relationship with CNet, which now provides some buying guides.

  • Stimulate in-store sales. The company says nearly 90 percent of Walmart.com customers also shop in the stores at least once a month. By giving more data online, Wal-Mart hopes to spur in-store buys, too. "In electronics, almost 90 percent of people who buy in stores first go online to review content," Cast says.

    The Web enhancements come as Wal-Mart faces slowing sales growth and aggressive rivals, from Target to J.C. Penney.

    Wal-Mart doesn't break out Web revenue, but trade magazine Internet Retailer says Wal mart.com and sibling Sams club.com had about $1.1 billion in combined sales last year, up 34 percent from 2004.

    Yet, the sites still represent less than 1 percent of the company's 2005 sales of $312 billion, says Internet Retailer editor Kurt Peters.

    Allen Adamson, author of "BrandSimple," says that even with the site redesign, it'll be hard to get customers to think of Wal-Mart for more than everyday discounts.

    "It will be very challenging to change its perception," he says. "It's so well entrenched in value."