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Banana Republic CEO Tapped to Head Wal-Mart.com
By Rachel Beck   Associated Press
NEW YORK — The executive credited with crafting the success of Banana Republic stores and the Gap's Web site will take the helm of Wal-Mart.com, the Internet arm of the giant retail chain that has struggled to find its way online.

Jeanne Jackson was named Wednesday as CEO of Wal-Mart.com.

She is charged with building the company into an online powerhouse and creating a site attractive enough to woo Wal-Mart customers — many of whom have never shopped online — to the Internet.

Jackson, 48, is one of the best-known executives in the retail business today. She started in the industry in 1978 and has worked for some of the nation's biggest chains, including Federated Department Stores, Saks Fifth Avenue and Victoria's Secret.

Since taking the helm of Banana Republic in 1996, she has built it into a chic clothing chain, filled with trendy fashions. For the past two years, she also has been in charge of the online operations at the Gap Inc., the parent company of Banana Republic, Gap and Old Navy stores.

Her efforts have helped make Gap into a retailing giant. The company's sales rose 29 percent to $11.64 billion in 1999, on top of a 39 percent gain in 1998.

Jackson was ranked 41st on Fortune Magazine's list of the 50 most powerful women in corporate America in 1999.

"I think this is a big loss for the Gap and a very triumphant gain for Wal-Mart," said Kurt Barnard, a retail consultant who runs Barnard's Retail Trend Report in Upper Montclair, N.J.

But Barnard and other analysts are now counting on Jackson to quickly breathe new life into Wal-Mart.com. Since its launch in 1996, the Web site has failed to keep pace with its Web-only rivals such as Amazon.com and eToys.

Wal-Mart.com was relaunched in January, stocking more than 600,000 items and offering a wide array of services, such as travel reservations. But many people complain it still lags behind the pack.

"This appointment tells me that Wal-Mart is still not happy with its new incarnation of its Web site and it is aware that it needs to do something to get it up to speed," Barnard said.

Preston Dodd, a senior analyst at New York-based Internet research firm Jupiter Communications, said Jackson's success may be based on how quickly she can understand the Wal-Mart customer.

"I'd say the biggest challenge ahead of her is whether she can figure out the Wal-Mart culture and really figure out how to bring that culture into the Web site," Dodd said. "Wal-Mart is a much different brand than Banana Republic."

Since January, the site has been run by Wal-Mart.com Inc., an independent company formed by Wal-Mart Stores Inc., the world's biggest retailer based in Bentonville, Ark., and Accel Partners, a Silicon Valley venture capital firm.

Wal-Mart.com Inc. is based in Palo Alto, Calif., and has its own board of directors and management team. Jackson will sit on the board.

Besides enhancing the Web site, Wal-Mart.com is also working with America Online Inc. to develop an Internet service provider and offer discounted Web access to people who currently may not have an affordable phone hookup in towns near its 2,500 stores. The name and price of the ISP have not yet been released.

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