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Retail giants revamp sites for holidays

NEW YORK-With their respective empires on land well-established, the three big retailing giants-Wal-Mart, Kmart and Target-continue to tweak their e-commerce formulas.

Just in time for the Christmas countdown, each retailer has relaunched its web site in the past several weeks, updating and refocusing the look and the assortment.

Wal-Mart's Walmart.com

Walmart.com shut down in October to undergo its renovation, and the result is a very edited assortment of home items. The Home section is comprised of seven areas, including Bed & Bath, Furniture and Holiday.

Under Bed & Bath, the only two domestic categories Wal-Mart's site focuses on, the visitor is faced with 12 product areas to choose from, including solid sheets, bed-in-a-bag, bedding coordinates, kids bedding, bath towels and coordinates, bath accessories (which on this site consists of scales and spacesavers) and more. There's also a box called Featured Items, which recently included a Favorite Things bath and bed collection. And with each individual product selected, Wal-Mart runs a May We Suggest box, pushing a related item for purchase.

Though many categories are covered, however, when one selects the product, the choices offered are limited and very basic. Solid-color sheet choices, for example, number four, including the unusual sheet color of black. One nice feature was that Wal-Mart lists the choices by top sellers (the black sheets came in last), though they can also be listed by item name or price. A twin flat sheet was $3.74, and most of the sheets and bed sets were available in the standard sizes, sometimes even in California King.

Four bed-in-a-bag patterns were offered, and printed sheet sets, in Bedding Coordinates, numbered six. Other bedding products included flannel sheets (two items), electric blankets (two), kids bedding (three) and nursery bedding (five). It was time-consuming when the user wanted to purchase sheets, however, because the visitor must click individually on each piece-flat sheet, fitted sheet, pillowcase, etc.-and go back and forth from the shopping cart, usually with a wait. It may have been easier to be presented with a list to check off sizes all at once.

Bath products included a Bath Towels and Coordinates group of eight patterns, under the Springmaid and Favorite Things labels. Bath towels retailed for $5. The photography, though nice and sharp, only shows a bit of the shower curtain placed behind the accessories and bath mat. And, as in bedding, one has to add each individual item to the shopping cart separately.

Kmart's Bluelight.com

Kmart's Bluelight.com pops with lots of color, contrasted with Walmart.com's very American blue text with red accents. Clicking on the For the Home tab on the home page, the visitor finds several featured items, recently including a Bed in a Bag from Dan River, and a listing of home categories to choose from at the right.

The domestics available under the For the Home tab are very limited, and it seemed a missed opportunity that there wasn't more of a connection or attention drawn to Martha Stewart's line, which is housed in its own boutique on the site. If a visitor stays within the home section, they may think that the only bath accessory available is a talking black cat lotion dispenser and one bath towel-no shower curtains. There is a Martha Stewart Everyday icon on the top of the site, but there should be some additional flags to let the visitor know that more home products are available elsewhere on the site.

In the home section, the Kmart line generally had one or two choices in each category, which included coverlets, electric blankets and pillows, with the exception of six bed-in-a-bag patterns. Sheets are divided into flat sheets, fitted sheets (both of which offer one solid-color, 120-count item, a twin sheet retailing for $2.99), and sheet sets. Only several comforter sets came in king-bed sizes (though there are some in the MSE shop). In the sheet set category, one may think that only one choice, a print, is available unless one scrolls down and notices that additional prints are available.

The Martha Stewart Everyday boutique is a very different story, and sits front and center on the website's home page. In Martha colors and nice product icons across the top, the Martha Stewart Everyday page features several items from different areas, recently including a vinyl shower curtain, a quilt and flatware. The directory at the right lists all of the collection's product areas: Baby Baby, Bedding, Bath, Decorating, Tabletop, Cooking and Garden.

Clicking into the bath or bedding area, the visitor is faced with the collection's four labels-Silver, White, Blue and Fancy- and the plethora of choices begins. The solid-color sheeting in the Silver label numbers six colors, and one can easily enter the quantity of each piece before checking out. The 180-count twin sheet set (with one pillowcase, flat and fitted sheets) was $12.99.

In the bath area, a Blue Label 3 Star bath towel retailed at $4.99, though recently the site's home page highlighted the Silver Label 5-Star Egyptian bath towel, available in Martha's favorite colors, for $7.99.

Other product categories include kitchen towels and oven mitts, under the label "Kitchen Utility" in the Cooking branch. The Decorating tab contained window (divided into casual, laces and sheers, and draperies), window hardware, decorative pillows, and table overlays.

When a product is selected, a photo of the product as well as several closeups of the fabrics or colors are provided, even of contour bath rugs, and that was a nice feature. Also, when one searches for something, the results are divided by the area of the website it's located in for easier access. For example, the search for "rugs" led to 15 items: three in MSE's line, two in For the Home, and a few items regarding the Rugrats.

Target's Target.com

The new website for Target sports a clean interface, and usually a picture of people enjoying various Target products on most lead pages. Navigation is easy, and, under the Home section, domestics are found in the categories Bath, Bedroom, Decor and Dining.

Unlike the other two sites, lists of categories to choose from are placed on the left side, which seems more natural than on the right, where it could be missed. And once the visitor clicks on a product category, they can choose to search products by price or brand instead.

Products are generally grouped together by area of the home, rather than product category. For example, the Dining section includes flatware, dinnerware and table linens. In Bath Coordinates, matching bath mats and rugs, shower curtains, accessories, and such are placed together.

Bedding offers a wide selection, divided into Cotton Luxury, English Floral, Indulgence, JNC, Royal Legacy, Serenity, Ultra Touch and weekend bedding. Forty-seven sheet choices (with Ultra Touch 180-count twin set retailing at $9.99) are given, some in California King sizes.

The bath section offers a wide range of styles, divided into bath coordinates, in classic and novelty looks, freestanding shower curtains, and solid-color towels and rugs. Martex's Royal Legacy bath towel retails for $5.99 and house label Indulgence, $7.99.

What seemed unusual here was that Target buried the Martex label in bedding and bath. Instead of flagging the label, it was found within the View Details box.

The Decor section includes throws and decorative pillows. Dining contains a festive assortment of place mats, napkin rings and other related products under Holiday Table Linens, as well as tablecloths, place mats, napkin rings, and such in the non-seasonal Table Linens.

The site also has other nice features. If someone forgot to buy the Sunday paper, for example, they could visit the website, click on Weekly Ad, and find out the specials that week for their part of the country. There's also a gift search feature in which Target will suggest something for a specific occasion or price range.

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