Walmart.com Shuts Down at Top of Retail Season

Analysts this week questioned WalMart.com's decision to close down for renovations just as the busy holiday shopping season starts.

"Shutting your site down in the 95 days before Christmas - you're out of your mind," said Gene Alvarez, a retail analyst at Meta Group Inc. in Pleasanton, Calif. "Two-thirds of the business for retail occurs during that 95-day period."

But Walmart.com this week posted a letter from its CEO, Jeanne Jackson, saying the move was expressly to improve holiday shopping.

"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," Jackson wrote.

The site is moving to a newly acquired e-commerce platform and will incorporate customer-suggested changes before its scheduled reopening Oct. 17.

Better E-Commerce Offering

Cynthia Lynn, a spokeswoman for Menlo Park, Calif.-based Walmart.com, said the company bought a customized e-commerce platform in July from defunct Web retailer HomeWarehouse.com and is now moving all of Walmart.com's products and data into the new system.

"The platform will allow us to provide a faster, easier-to-use e-commerce offering to our customers," she said. "We have a huge assortment, a mass quantity of data" to transfer.

The site is being shut down to ensure that the transition is successful, Lynn said.

Among other things, customers suggested changing product categories, adding products and making it easier to log in to shop and place orders, said a company spokeswoman.

Alvarez, however, called the total shutdown "insane."

"If I made an acquisition and I wanted to change technologies, I mean, that's what testing and development environments are for," he said. "Why would I want to stop a revenue stream ... - if there is a revenue stream - in order to bring on site improvements?"

Earlier this year, Walmart.com was spun off as a separate venture from parent company Wal-Mart Stores Inc. in Bentonville, Ark. The online company is a joint venture of Wal-Mart, which is the world's largest retailer, and Accel Partners in Palo Alto, Calif.

Barrett Ladd, an analyst at Lincoln, Mass.-based Gomez Advisors Inc., said that while the move may garner publicity for the company, she, too, didn't understand why the site had to close down. But, she added, "Wal-Mart has its own way of doing everything, and I think this is just another step down that path."

Scott Silverman, vice president of Internet retailing at the National Retail Federation in Washington, said Walmart.com must have good reasons for its decision.

"If this was Amazon.com and they shut down their online store, which is their only source of revenue, that would be a much bigger story," he said. But online sales are a "minuscule" part of Wal-Mart's bottom line, he said.

Carol Baroudi, an analyst at Hurwitz Group Inc. in Framingham, Mass., agreed.

"They can take the (sales) hit now far better than they can if there is any risk of (the site going) down over Christmas," she said. "There are probably many sites that should do the same thing."

Walmart.com was launched in July 1996. A Web site redesign scheduled for last October was delayed until this past January, the company said.

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