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Walmart, Safeway Fighting For Control Of .Grocery

Written by Frank Hayes
June 13th, 2012

There’s a .grocery domain in our future, and Walmart and Safeway are fighting over which chain will control it, while Amazon and Google battle to own .buy, .shop and .store. On Wednesday (June 13), the organization that oversees domain names—ICANN—unveiled 1,930 applications for new top-level domains (TLDs) to use instead of .com, and the list includes some of the biggest retail chains—and doesn’t include even more big chains.

The retailers who shelled out $185,000 per name to buy their E-Commerce sites’ domain names all over again include Macy’s, Gap, TJX and Home Depot. But Kroger, Walgreens, CVS and Lowe’s gave the vanity domains a pass.

In the case of .grocery, both Walmart and Safeway applied for their own chain names, too, so they’ll begin using them relatively soon. But because they’re both going after .grocery, their applications will enter ICANN’s labyrinthine resolution process, according to which each retailer will be rated by a committee for how well it qualifies as a part of the grocery “community.”

When that fails to pick a winner, if Walmart and Safeway haven’t cut a private deal for one or the other to drop out, they’ll end up in an auction—which means the ultimate price of .grocery could be much higher than $185,000. According to ICANN’s applicant guidebook, “There is a possibility that significant funding will accrue to ICANN as a result of one or more auctions.”

There’s also a possibility of lawsuits involving competing retailers or ICANN when somebody is unhappy with the results of the process.

But none of this should be a surprise. ICANN kept the applications secret, so there was no way for retailers to know which of their competitors were paying for their own top-level domains, whether anyone was trying to cybersquat on their brand name or whether a name like .grocery was in play. ICANN also refused to say if (or when) there will be a second chance for retailers to apply for their own names. For the foreseeable future, this might have been the only chance. That means chains had to make a competitive decision flying blind.

(A cynic might conclude this was a lousy way to use fear to extort money out of retailers who don’t really need to purchase their domains again. To the contrary, it was a very effective way to do that—ICANN collected about $350 million from applicants that also included car companies, hotel chains and banks, along with lots and lots of would-be domain resellers.)

Which retailers bit on the bait? The biggest buyers among conventional chains were TJX (which applied for .tjx, .tjmaxx, .tkmaxx, .marshalls, .homegoods, .homesense and .winners) and Gap (going after .gap, .oldnavy, .bananarepublic, .athleta and .piperlime). Macy’s went after .macys and .bloomingdales, Walmart snapped up .walmart, .samsclub, .asda and .george, and Safeway applied for .safeway and .vons (but not domains for any of the smaller chains it owns).

But the largest grocery chain in the U.S., Kroger, didn’t try for any vanity domains. Neither did Walgreens, CVS or Rite-Aid. While Home Depot paid for .homedepot and .thd, Lowe’s stayed home. There will be a .visa, .americanexpress and .discover, but no .mastercard. And no .paypal—or .ebay.

Apple, Target, JCPenney, Best Buy, McDonald’s, Staples, Polo (but not Ralph Lauren) and Tiffany also paid to have their own TLDs—or at least try to get them, since they’ll have to be legally vetted even though no other applicant filed for those names.


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