September 25, 2007, 12:00 AM

Midwestern retail chain Meijer enters the e-commerce fray

Though the company isn’t talking about its new web store, the new Meijer.com features several advanced features and functions, including rich media, guided navigation and a shopping cart that includes larger images and a shipping tax calculator.

Meijer Inc., which owns and operates about 180 general merchandise stores in five Midwestern states, has launched a new e-commerce site.

Though the company isn’t talking about its new web store, the new Meijer.com features several advanced features and functions, including rich media, guided navigation and a shopping cart that includes larger images and a shipping tax calculator.

The site also features a digital photo printing service offered in conjunction with Snapfish, a unit of Hewlett-Packard Co., and other customer service features such as a text messaging service that alerts Meijer shoppers to gas price increases and specials at Meijer’s stores in Michigan, Illinois, Kentucky, Indiana and Ohio.

Meijer is entering e-commerce at a time when competitors such as Wal-Mart Stores Inc., No. 13 in the Internet Retailer Top 500 Guide, are investing heavily in e-commerce and programs that use the web to drive more store traffic. In July, for instance, Wal-Mart expanded a program that lets online shoppers request free delivery to their nearest Wal-Mart store of any of tens of thousands of products, many of which are not available in stores.

For now, Meijer is selling merchandise such as music, movies, games, electronics, pet supplies, home accessories, toys and other product lines on its web site. It’s unclear if Meijer, which sells groceries and hard goods in its stores, will launch an online grocery initiative.

But making its site commerce-enabled will help the chain retailer build up a better brand and give its regional store customers new ways to shop, says Jon Hauptman, a partner with food retailing consulting firm Willard Bishop. “They are looking at e-commerce as a way to keep differentiating in a very competitive segment of the retail market,” says Hauptman. “They were an early pioneer in selling hard goods and groceries in a super center under the same roof. The web store will help to keep them close to their customer base.”

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