November 21, 2008, 12:00 AM

Mass Merchants/Department Stores

(Page 4 of 4)

A big community
Like the bricks-and-mortar stores of Wal-Mart Stores Inc., Walmart.com is big and bustling.

And even as the site attracts more than 26 million visitors a month, company officials are trying to keep those consumers engaged so they do more than just buy the merchandise they came looking for and quickly depart.

Navigation is key, because of the retail giant’s extensive inventory. The left-side navigation column on the home page lists broad categories, and a click on each reveals sub-categories, in some cases more than three dozen of them.

“Because this company sells just about everything, having a good way for customers to sort through and find everything is really important, and they’ve done a good job at that,” says analyst Nikki Baird, managing director of Retail Systems Research.

The site also offers visitors a chance to communicate with each other. Walmart.com recently introduced a section of the site it calls “Connect and Share,” which includes blogs, visitor reviews, a question-and-answer exchange on the retailer’s products, and stories written by customers about their shopping experiences. And not all the content relates to shopping. Prior to last month’s election, the section featured videos of the two presidential candidates.

The objective of “Connect and Share,” according to Walmart.com, is “to help our customers better connect with one another and share ideas, tips and experiences about Wal-Mart products and services.”

With the placement of “Connect and Share” at the bottom of the home page, however, many visitors may miss out on it, Baird observes.

She and another analyst, George Whalin of Retail Management Consultants, also question Walmart.com’s decision to place a large advertisement in the middle of the home page. “I think it’s a big mistake, especially since it doesn’t have anything to do with their business,” Whalin says. Otherwise, he says, the giant e-retailer does “a great job of showing off their merchandise and specials.”

And that, after all, is the primary point of Walmart.com’s web site. “Our vision is to be the most visited and valued online retail site by making it easier for our customers to shop Wal-Mart,” the company says.

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