Retail giants rushing to stake a claim in e-commerce


Dec. 19, 1999

Like the mad dash for free land that you see in old photos and illustrations from the Oklahoma land rush days a century ago, the past week has unleased a flurry of big retailers staking big claims in the world of e-commerce.

• K-mart is hitting the Web in a big way with its new Web site,

The site's initial highlight is the offer of free Internet access. You'll also find a limited selection of Kmart merchandise on hand for purchase.

Kmart is partnering with a couple of Internet heavyweights with

The first is Yahoo!, the search engine-turned portal Web site. Yahoo! will provide the free Internet access as well as connections to Yahoo!'s shopping services, its search engine and e-mail.

Venture capitalist Softbank is contributing $62 million to the deal, as well as their knowledge and experience in investing in successful Web sites (like Yahoo! and E*Trade).

Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia, the popular home decor conglomerate, is also contributing to the effort.

Despite its name, won't focus on close-out merchandise or last year's fashions. The site will be selling only Kmart's top-of-the-line goods.

Kmart, the nation's third-largest retailer, gives Yahoo! access to new markets -- mainly the millions of Kmart shoppers who aren't online yet.

Expect to see widely promoted in Kmart advertising beginning about February. The company plans to distribute 2 million free CD-ROMs in its stores.

If only a portion of regular Kmart shoppers sign up for, it could help propel Yahoo! into the top 10 U.S. Internet providers.

Existing Internet users can download the free-access software from the Web site.

Check the dial-up telephone number availability list closely; there's nothing more frustrating than taking time to download, install and set up a program that's going to force you to make a long-distance phone call.

To its credit, the free Internet access worked flawlessly during my test at home. Unfortunately, the access numbers were all in Louisville and Lexington.

If you visit the site now and make a purchase, you'll receive a free $5 Kmart gift card for each item purchased online.

For details, visit the site at

• Retailing giant Wal-Mart entered into a partnership with America Online, the nation's top Internet provider, to create a low-cost Internet service.

The service, according to a press release, will target consumers who live in smaller communities that may not have adequate access to the Internet.

About six out of every 10 towns in which Wal-Mart operates already have local Internet access, and Wal-Mart and AOL say they'll work together to first get access where to "unwired" areas -- where it is needed most.

AOL will provide the Internet connection expertise, while Wal-Mart will promote the new access service and sign up new users.

The as-yet-unnamed Internet service will be similar to the existing CompuServe service (owned and operated by AOL), and include controls to give parents the choice to determine what sites their children visit on the Internet.

Wal-Mart will promote both the new Internet access business and that of its partner, AOL, in its advertising and in-store promotions, including free CD-ROMs.

Speaking of AOL, 21-million-member strong Internet provider also just signed an alliance with Circuit City for distrubtion and promotion of the AOL service and software.

For more information, visit

JUNO E-MAIL MOVES TO THE WEB. If you're one of the 7-million-plus users of the Juno free e-mail software, you'll be interested to know that the company is making its e-mail service accessible to its users via the World Wide Web.

Users of the free Juno e-mail service can now retrieve their Juno e-mail online at Previously, users could only retrieve messages by dialing into Juno's computer system. Now Juno users can get e-mail using either method.

Juno is currently promoting its full Internet access program -- Juno Web -- for a rock-bottom price of $9.95 per month.

Right now they are offering the first month (or 150 hours) free. You can download the software free at the Web site, or request a free Juno 3.0 CD ROM.

Visit for details.

ONLINE SHOPPER$. A new research study shows some common trends about Americans who are going online this year to do their holiday shopping.

The study, released earlier this month by Scarborough Research, was compiled from interviews with more than 85,000 U.S. adults.

• Two-thirds of those who make purchases online are college-educated and hold white collar jobs.

• More than one-third have incomes over $75,000.

• Three-fourths use ATMs regularly, and more than 60 percent use mobile phones.

• More than 50 percent swim regularly.

• A third are members of a frequent flyer program, and a nearly half have traveled outside the country recently.

The common thread among users is available income for spending, and the growing number of online retailers -- now referred to as "e-tailers" -- are competing for a slice of that pie.

Comments and questions about this column may be sent to, or visit on the World Wide Web.

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