November 1, 2001, 12:00 AM

The Tao of Barbie: The new age of manufacturer/retailer relations

Mattel’s Barbie.com and WalMart.com are promoting each other’s sites. Some say the deal could be a blueprint for how manufacturers can control information about their products on the web while promoting sales at retail sites.

Some consumer goods manufacturers once thought the Internet would allow them to sell direct to consumers-until retailers protested. Now a deal between Mattel Inc.’s Girls Interactive Group and WalMart.com may provide a blueprint for how manufacturers can go direct to consumer without alienating retailers.

Mattel will provide a direct link from the information site Barbie.com, which receives 5 million visitors a month, to WalMart.com for shoppers to purchase doll accessories from the Barbie boutique. Mattel says this is the first e-commerce element at a Girls Interactive Group web site.

The agreement benefits both sides of the deal, says Rob Leathern, consumer packaged goods analyst at Jupiter Media Matrix. Barbie.com relieves retailers of the expense of providing lots of content about Barbie and its products while it gives Mattel control over Barbie content on the web. “Consumers often research at one retail site then buy at another site that has lower prices because it doesn’t have the expense of providing content,” Leathern says. “This takes the onus off retailers to provide that information.”

The downside to the relationship, some say, is that it risks alienating other mass merchants. Mattel says similar agreements are under consideration with other major retailers. Leathern notes that the Barbie.com site still provides store locators for chains besides Wal-Mart.

At WalMart.com, Barbie.com will receive targeted placements, including on the home page. Mattel and WalMart.com plan to extend the agreement to include other doll boutiques.

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