Wal-Mart Wants Web Visitors in Stores

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Wal-Mart Stores Inc. plans to upgrade the store finder feature on Walmart.com to drive online consumers into Wal-Mart stores.

The nation's largest retailer currently uses Vicinity's Business Finder service on its Web site and Vicinity's Brand Finder service for consumers using Internet-enabled phones and interactive TV. Both services provide directions to the nearest store when consumers enter their ZIP codes.

The new system, also provided by Vicinity, will be a "lead generation solution," said Eric J. Winkler, vice president of marketing at Vicinity, Sunnyvale, CA. "Our goal is to get a specific number of people into the stores every single month through the Web site, through wireless and through interactive cable. All of these tie in to the same database."

Terms of the contract for generating leads and a timetable for implementing the upgrade were not disclosed.

"I think this is the first step in creating more synergies between Wal-Mart's bricks-and-mortar side and Walmart.com," Winkler said. "We've been down this road before with Barnes & Noble, where they started out as two disconnected entities and later found they had more to gain by leveraging their two sides together."

Features of the new system will include the ability to deliver sales and incentives good only at stores when people use the store finder feature. Wal-Mart will also tap into Vicinity's Business Finder service on shopping engines of portals.

If a consumer goes to the shopping area of a portal and types in "blue jeans," for example, the search would pull up recommendations and the nearest Wal-Mart store where the pair could be bought.

Vicinity's focus on traditional brands using the Internet to drive consumers to stores is intentional.

Vicinity clients include FedEx, General Motors Corp., Levi Strauss & Co., Marriott, Hilton Hotels, Ford Motor Co. and Bank of America. These marketers pay Vicinity an annual fee to generate sales leads.

In a separate development, Vicinity has signed up Ace Hardware and McDonald's Corp. for its SiteMaker service. The retailers will use Vicinity technology to allow their franchisees to open Web sites for individual stores.

For example, McDonald's franchisee can use their Web sites to inform consumers about local events, promotions and jobs and can tie in with the corporate Web site at www.mcdonalds.com. Franchisees can opt in to participate.

"We're working with McDonald's to develop the template," Winkler said. "It is being launched in the first quarter."

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