Walmart, Safeway, Amazon Share Same Domain Strategy: Mine, Mine, Mine

Written by Frank Hayes
March 13th, 2013

Walmart (NYSE:WMT) and Safeway (NYSE:SWY) are each trying to privatize .grocery, so no competing chains can use it. Barring an unexpected change, one of the two will lock it down. Meanwhile, the spotlight has been on Amazon (NASDAQ:AMZN) for attempting to get exclusive use of .books. Other retail-friendly top-level domains (TLDs), including .toys, .kids, .tools, .shoes, .fashion and .food, are also in play.

Why all the attention now for the vanity TLDs, when the list of who applied for what was made public last June? Mainly because Wednesday (March 13) is the deadline for filing objections to those applications. And although eight other companies—including Google (NASDAQ:GOOG)—are also vying for .books, the biggest fears are about Amazon.

That may not be as paranoid as it first looks. Amazon filed (and paid the $185,000 per TLD application fee) for 76 separate vanity TLDs—all of which it intends to restrict to Amazon and its subsidiaries. (Yes, we looked at all 76 applications.) The Authors Guild and the Association of American Publishers filed objections over Amazon’s .books application, using words like “enormous competitive advantage” and “monopoly.”

Amazon isn’t alone. Walmart and Safeway have filed dueling applications for .grocery, and both chains say in their filings they’ll restrict use to just their own corporate families. Unlike .books, there are no other competing applications for that name, so either Walmart or Safeway will eventually get the vanity TLD. If, somehow, .grocery becomes wildly popular and Kroger (NYSE:KR) or Costco (NASDAQ:COST) wants to use it, they’ll be out of luck.

That type of lockdown wasn’t supposed to happen with generic names, only brands. About three dozen retailers did apply for vanity TLDs consisting of their own brands, but that list is dwarfed by Amazon’s 76 applications (all just for Amazon’s use) and Google’s 101 filings (some just for Google, others open to wider use).

Some of the most obvious TLDs that retailers might conceivably be interested in—.shoes, .toys, .fashion, .jewelry and .tools—have no retailer applicants. They’ve all been applied for by companies that actually believe they can sell domain names ending with those TLDs. There’s also .food, which is the focus of a three-way competition among two domain registrars and the Food Network, which wants to take it private. Amazon, Google and a Hong Kong foundation are each fighting for .kids.

No one knows at this point when any of these new TLDs will actually become available for use—they’re all officially still in the “initial evaluation” stage. Unopposed applications with no competition might start being approved as early as April, but that sounds optimistic.

What is clear is why there’s this explosion of TLDs. In a word: money.


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