Minneapolis-based Dayton Hudson, which also owns discount chain Target and department store Mervyn's, announced last month that it would unveil Marshallfields.com, Daytons.com, Hudsons.com, and Mervyns.com by November. The Mervyn's site will launch later this month, according to company spokeswoman Patty Morris.
Dayton Hudson executives plan to offer the best-selling merchandise from each store chain as opposed to presenting their entire inventories, Morris said.
Target.com was launched earlier this year in a similar fashion, offering a fraction of the products that it sells in its chain stores. The new sites initially will promote holiday gifts and provide information on store locations.
Dayton Hudson's move onto the Internet comes well behind strong efforts made by brick-and-mortar rivals such as Macy's and Nordstrom's. Federated Department Stores, owner of the Macy's chain, launched Macys.com in July 1998. Department store chain Nordstrom, which launched its site in October 1998, announced in August plans to spin off its Internet unit in partnership with venture capital firm Benchmark Capital.
Morris said Dayton Hudson delayed the site launches to ensure the best shopping experience for its customers, and to avoid the "technical problems that have plagued other retail sites."
According to Zona Research analyst Clay Ryder, when companies such as Dayton Hudson finally do introduce their sites, they must offer something unique to help them stand out from competitors and draw customers to their site.
"I don't know how unique their strategy is," Ryder said. "This seems to be a rapidly changing marketplace, and if you're not unique, what's your value [ to the customer]."