January 24, 2014, 4:52 PM

An Internet milestone

Next Wednesday, the first batch of new top-level domain names—including .bike and .clothing—are set to hit the Internet. Hundreds more will follow in the coming months. The naming expansion is the largest in history and the first since 2004, according to ICANN, which oversees the web-address system.

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For the first time since 2004, Internet addresses next week will become more diverse, and in a new and way that has important implications for retailers and consumer brands.

On Wednesday, the first batch of new generic top-level domains—the characters following the second “dot” in an Internet address, like “.com”—are set to join the mainstream, according to the International Corporation of Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), the nonprofit group tasked with coordinating the names and numbers of web addresses worldwide. Those new domains include .bike and .clothing, meaning a retailer selling in either of those categories will be able to buy a new web address specific to it. For example, American Apparel could corner AmericanApparel.clothing.

”The new top-level domain program is off the ground and humming along, which means enormous branding opportunities are opening up for both online and bricks-and-mortar retailers,” says Nao Matsukata, CEO of domain name consulting firm FairWinds Partners LLC. Retailers should look for opportunities to promote their brands, products and services with the new domains, he says, as well as watch out for infringement of their trademarks. ”Few businesses know this domain  space revolution is underway, so it's critical that retailers get educated,” he says.

ICANN began approving applications for ownership of new web domain names last year. Since then, it has announced approval of more than 100—the biggest expansion of Internet addresses in history.

”There are now almost five times more generic top-level domains than there were only a few months ago and that translates to greater consumer choice,” says Akram Atallah, president of ICANN’s global domains division. “We are as eager as everyone else to see what type of innovation these new domains will usher into the online world.”

Many of the new domains, such as .luxury, .gift, .shoe and .shop, are retail-related. As they’ve been introduced, thousands of organizations and individuals have signed up to be alerted when they become available for purchase, according to web registries that sell such them. One registry offering such a service, 1&1 Internet Inc., has so far processed more than 4.2 million alert sign-ups, which it calls pre-reservations, says content manager Daniel Young. The domain name .shop alone has 119,964 pre-reservations and counting, he says. Other retail-related domain names among the 30 most popular from 1&1 Internet, as measured by pre-reservations, include .buy, .fashion, .sale and .home, he adds.

For 54 domain names, 1&1 also offers pre-registrations, which guarantee exclusive access to a domain on a first-come, first-serve basis; the registrar will reserve it for the buyer on its launch date so that no other 1&1 customers end up with the domain (a buyer could reserve the name via another registrar, though, in which case the registrars would have to allocate the names based on their own methods, Young says). The cost for registering a domain varies, with some notably on the high end—for example, a .luxury address costs $799.99 per year. Others are less expensive—a .bike address goes for $39.99 per year, a .technology domain for $24.99 per year, Young says.

The list of 100 domains in the final steps before going into public use also includes: .club, .build, .pics, .pink, .photo, .rich, .red, .guitars, .cheap, .social, .email, .international, .coffee, .florist, .holiday, .buzz, .support, .computer, .diamonds, .gallery, .kitchen, .sexy, .today, .camera, .lighting and .equipment.

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