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Wal-Mart Closes Virtual Doors While Unveiling Expansion Plans

Wal-Mart Stores Inc.'s online shopping site, walmart.com, is temporarily closed for remodeling.

According to the company, the site will be closed for the first few weeks of October. "This temporary measure will enable us to provide you with an improved store, designed to meet your needs for an easier, more pleasant shopping experience this holiday season," according to a statement released by the mega-retailer.

The shutdown is a time for the company to create a more streamlined, well-defined online shopping service, according to Rebecca Nidositko, senior analyst, online retail strategies at YankeeGroup.

"This is not a setback for the company's ecommerce plans," she noted. "Wal-Mart is very good at what it does in the offline world. Now, it needs to fine tune what is being done online.

"The online arena is much different for them and I suspect they are evaluating their system," she continued. "The company might be finding that its online merchandise should be different than what is offered in its stores. They also need to define their online clients because their traditional buyers are not known as techno-savvy people. In the long run, I expect big things from them."

Wal-Mart plans to make use of existing technologies to improve the site, noted Lee Scott, president and CEO. "The site will end up being something that we are very proud of," he stated Monday at the company'a annual shareholder's meeting. "There are great opportunities to grow the company and grow its brand."

The company intends to make walmart.com an extension of its retail outlets, spokesperson Cynthia Lin told internetnews.com. "We have 90- to 100-million customers come into our stores every week," she said. "They will be able to find the same service they are accustomed to by going online."

Once re-opened, the site will offer easier navigation, better search features and a new look. "We will be featuring online merchandise shops, organizing sections by theme, not category," Lin said.

Although online sales will be nil for now, the world's largest retailer Monday revealed an aggressive expansion campaign.

Beginning February 1, 2001, the company will add Supercenters, Neighborhood Markets and Sam Clubs in the U.S. and in countries where it presently does business.

Next year, Wal-Mart will open about 40 new discount stores and nearly 180 Supercenters in the U.S. Further, the company plans to double the number of its Neighborhood Market stores, adding 15 to 30 next year, and domestically will add 40 to 50 Sam's Clubs, about half of which will be relocations or expansions of existing clubs.

Wal-Mart International will open up 100 to 110 stores. The expansion plans also include several restaurants, departments stores and supermarkets in Mexico.

The company is also plugging away in Germany, said Scott. "We are making positive movements in Germany," he said. "There are a number of encouraging things occurring there, but they are not happening at a rate that we are pleased with."

The company will also construct three regional general merchandise centers, two food distribution centers and two fresh food distribution centers during the next fiscal year.

According to published reports, the company presently has 1,742 Wal-Mart stores, 835 Supercenters, 469 Sam's Clubs and 13 Neighborhood Markets in the U.S. There are 1,041 stores overseas.

In related news, Wal-Mart Stores reported sales at stores open at a year rose 4.8 percent over a year ago. Total sales for the five-week period ended September 29 rose 10.5 percent to $17.3 billion from $15.7 billion during the same period a year ago.



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