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MAY 15, 2000

By: Wendy Zellner

Jeanne Jackson, CEO,


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After more than four years of online experimenting -- and downright fumbling -- giant Wal-Mart Stores (WMT) is counting on former Gap superstar Jeanne P. Jackson to jump-start its critical e-commerce efforts. As CEO of Gap's upscale Banana Republic chain and head of the parent company's Internet and catalog unit, Jackson, 48, proved herself a keen builder of distinctive brands, online and off.

Her Internet smarts and marketing sizzle are sorely needed at, which has failed to live up to lofty expectations. Wal-Mart essentially acknowledged as much by in January creating a separate Internet unit, based in Palo Alto, Calif., in partnership with well-regarded venture-capital firm Accel Partners. Despite Wal-Mart's powerful brand name, technology savvy, and massive resources, including $165 billion in sales last year, the company has struggled to build its e-commerce presence. In January -- before turning to Accel -- it launched a redesigned and vastly expanded Web site that was quickly criticized for its user-unfriendliness. In February, ranked No. 50 among shopping sites, logging 1.3 million unique visitors, vs. No. 2's 13.6 million, according to market researcher Media Metrix.

Now the Net appears to have Wal-Mart's full attention, with Chairman Rob Walton and new CEO Lee Scott both sitting on's board. But outsiders question whether Jackson, named CEO in March, will have the autonomy she needs to compete not only with powerful e-tailers like but also with Wal-Mart's own stores. A retail veteran who has worked at Federated, Saks Fifth Avenue, and Victoria's Secret, Jackson points to her success at building strong cooperation between Gap's stores and its Web site as a model for how she'll boost's results. At the Gap, for instance, store clerks will look for products online for their customers if the store doesn't have them in stock.

Jackson, a mother of two, counts herself among Wal-Mart's 100 million customers, stocking up on dog food, paper towels, and other household products for her weekend home near California's Lake Tahoe. She insists that will be no different from the company's more than 4,000 real-world stores, each with merchandise that appeals to local customers. In some cases, will have a broader selection than the stores, in others, it might have less. "We're going to tailor our store for the online community," she vows. But as Wal-Mart has learned the hard way, that's easier said than done.

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