Will New CEO Revitalize Wal-Mart.com?

On Thursday, Wal-Mart, Inc. tapped former Banana Republic CEO Jeanne P. Jackson to head its newly independent Walmart.com Web site, prompting some industry analysts to believe that the mammoth retailer will finally hit its online stride.

While the down-to-earth fashions of Wal-Mart may be a far cry from those being marketed at the more upscale Banana Republic, Jackson still offers two solid years of experience in building brands online.

In fact, the National Retail Federation (NRF) estimates that Gap, Inc., the parent company of Banana Republic, generated $80 to $100 million (US$) in online sales for its fiscal year ending September 1999 — making it the top apparel brick-and-click in the nation.

Jackson’s star has risen as a result. She has been named one of Fortune Magazine’s “50 Most Powerful Women” in U.S. business each of the past two years, and was also named one of the top 25 business managers in the U.S. by Business Week Magazine.

Looking for a Fresh Start

By making Jackson its new Web chief, it appears that Wal-Mart has finally recognized that its online strategy is in desperate need of a jump-start.

Karen Sack, a retail industry analyst at Standard & Poor’s, told the E-Commerce Times that, “Wal-Mart.com represents the single most exciting opportunity on the Internet today. There is a revolution going on in the way that people shop and communicate. The opportunity to play a significant role in applying the Wal-Mart brand to this new medium is simply once in a lifetime.”

While the opportunity may be once in a lifetime, Wal-Mart is getting lukewarm reviews for its efforts to date. Soon after Wal-Mart.com’s January 2000 launch, Forrester Research, Inc. concluded that the e-commerce operation lagged badly behind its projected competition.

The scathing review came only a few short weeks after America Online and Wal-Mart announced a wide-ranging strategic alliance that created a new co-branded online service and numerous cross-marketing initiatives between the two companies.

Work Cut Out

The lack of solid grounding on Wal-Mart’s site puts Jackson on the hot seat immediately.

Aside from the plethora of technical issues, Jackson will have to contend with the issue of whether Wal-Mart’s staid corporate structure will be able to keep its hands off its e-commerce operation.

For Jackson’s sake, let’s hope that Wal-Mart leaves her alone. Otherwise, the site is destined for failure and Jackson will find herself polishing up her resume one short year from now.

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