SAN FRANCISCO -Just in time for the fourth-quarter competition, the Big Three national discount chains-Kmart, Target and Wal-Mart-have re-launched their e-commerce sites, after extended hiatuses, with faster search engines, flashier graphics and expanded assortments.
While each beefed up toys and housewares, Kmart and Wal-Mart returned this month with a renewed emphasis on electronics, reflecting the category's affinity, along with books, CDs and vacation packages, for Web-based sales.
Following a soft launch earlier this year, when it offered only about 60,000 products, Kmart's site, BlueLight.com, officially debuted with a new sky-blue color scheme and a daunting assortment of some 250,000 SKUs. Contributing to the greater selection is its online electronics store, which now boasts more than 2,500 products, ranging from DVD and MP3 players to TiVo, TVs, cellphones and digital cameras under such brands as Braun, GE, Kodak, Nokia, Philips/Magnavox, Panasonic, Samsung and Sanyo.
The expanded CE lineup, said a BlueLight spokesman, is indicative of Kmart's renewed commitment to the category, both on and offline. "Electronics is going to be huge," he said, pointing to Nov. 2's multichannel introduction of the retailer's first private-label PC as a hint of things to come.
The machine, dubbed the BlueLight True Blue Personal Computer and made by LG International, features a 633MHz Intel Celeron processor, 7.5GB hard disk drive, 56K modem and 32MB RAM, and sells for $499.99. A 15-inch monitor is sold separately for $129.99.
Consumers can also purchase both, along with a $50 Lexmark color printer, in a bundle for $649.97 after a $30 rebate. Other trade-up options include a $59.99 "Companion Kit" from National Electronics Warranty Corp. that contains a one-year extended service plan on the PC and monitor, plus a mousepad, mini-vacuum, monitor wipes, 10-foot USB printer cable and a three-month trial subscription to Yahoo!Internet Life magazine.
"At $499.99 there's not a lot of margin in it," the BlueLight spokesman said. "But it will increase sales and elevate the electronics department overall through purchases of high-margin printers, cables and other products."
Meanwhile, Walmart.com, which was shut for nearly a month while the site was upgraded with cleaner graphics and quicker search and checkout functions, is also back with a bigger CE selection. Indeed, electronics, along with toys and other gift items, was specifically singled out for fortification, and the department now appears first among the home page's dozen Amazon-like category tabs.
Mirroring Kmart's trade-up strategy, most of Walmart.com's featured electronics are priced over $500. Appearing in a separate "Hot Electronics" subsection within the CE store, these products include a 15-inch Radius flat-panel LCD screen ($749), a Panasonic portable DVD/CD player ($799.96) and a 61-inch RCA projection TV ($1,599).
At the same time, the site keeps sight of its "Every Day Low Prices" roots by offering such "shockingly great prices" as a GE DVD player for $148.88.
Of the three discount sites, Target's assortment remains the smallest, but its graphics the snazziest. Although electronics gets its own freestanding section within the new, improved site, electric shavers and organizers are lumped in with A/V and cameras. Moreover, the selection is largely limited to easily shipped items, such as the Casio handheld TVs and 9-inch GE Spacemaker that comprise the television offerings.