Wal-Mart's Too Cool for School

It's another small step back for Wal-Mart (NYSE: WMT  ) and a giant leap back for its not-so-hip kind. The country's largest retailer is staging another dot-com retreat as its School Your Way hub, which longed to become the next major social-networking site, shuts down.

Kids today! Who could've imagined that image-conscious teens wouldn't want to hang out on a restrictive, whitewashed MySpace wannabe revolving around Wal-Mart product wish lists?

The company launched the site two months ago, hoping to form a sticky connection with its younger patrons just as back-to-school shopping season was kicking up. The experiment obviously didn't pan out. Unfortunately, Wal-Mart couldn't get the launch right, and it has also botched the closure. It's not only shutting out those who wasted their time on registering for the site; it's also making the boneheaded move of redirecting traffic to its Walmart.com catch-all landing page.

What's the deal, Wal-Mart? You couldn't have redirected the traffic to a more fitting category page like back-to-school products, the CD store, or some of those "hottest fashions" you claim to stock?

You can't blame Wal-Mart for trying. You also shouldn't be surprised at Wal-Mart for failing. It tried to make its mark as an Internet access provider. It now hands that job over to Time Warner's (NYSE: TWX  ) America Online and Netscape. It tried to give DVD rentals by mail a go. Then it raised the white flag and now pimps red mailers for Netflix (Nasdaq: NFLX  ) .

Nobody really gave Wal-Mart much of a chance here. Even Target (NYSE: TGT  ) , with a little more "cheap chic" backbone, would have been hard-pressed to make something like The Hub fly.

Besides, isn't drawing an online crowd overrated? The edgy Delia's (Nasdaq: DLIA  ) had too big of a hit on its hands with gURL.com, so it unloaded the site in 2001. But you've got to be nuts if you can't draw the connection between having a popular secondary site and the ability to market effectively as a retailer.

Wal-Mart could have gone about this in so many different ways. It should have launched a stand-alone site with very loose corporate affiliations instead of a Walmart.com subdomain. It even could have gone the self-effacing route by having folks pick out Wal-Mart garb that they would never be caught dead wearing, perhaps inspiring the discovery of something cool.

In the end, Wal-Mart took itself too seriously. Again. And it failed online. Again.

Time Warner and Netflix have been recommended toMotley Fool Stock Advisornewsletter subscribers. Wal-Mart -- Sam Walton and all -- has been singled out as anInside Valuestock pick. All of our newsletter services come with a free 30-day trial.

Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz has probably spent more at Wal-Mart's online store than at its offline empire in recent years. He does own shares in Netflix. He is also part of theRule Breakersnewsletter research team, seeking out tomorrow's ultimate growth stocks a day early. The Fool has a disclosure policy.


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