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Wal-Mart to unwrap redesigned Web site

The retail giant plans to ring in the New Year with a redesigned Web store, just as other online retailers brace themselves for Y2K.

Wal-Mart plans to ring in the New Year with a redesigned Web store, slated to launch Jan. 1, just as other online retailers brace themselves for Y2K.

The home page of the behemoth land-based retailer reads: "Visit the new Wal-Mart online store coming January 1, 2000! Our site is temporarily closed until the New Year to prepare for our new online store. Come back to use these and more great new features."

Features of the new site include a gift registry, personalized calendars, an online travel agency and a photo center, along with a greater selection of products.

Originally expected to reopen in the fall of this year, Wal-Mart's online store has come under fire for missing this crucial holiday season. Analysts asserted that the holiday was an important time for online retailers to make an impression with new and experienced Internet shoppers.

Wal-Mart, however, maintains that its efforts will build a long-term relationship with customers. "The redesign has been about doing it right, not doing it fast," said Melissa Berryhill, Wal-Mart spokeswoman.

"We're going to be up and running January 1, and look forward to offering our customers a newly redesigned site just for them," Berryhill said, adding that the new site will offer more than 600,000 products at launch.

The relaunch comes on the heels of a far-reaching deal with online giant America Online in mid-December. The alliance will create a co-branded Internet service provider that caters to the needs of consumers who live in the more remote U.S. communities serviced by Wal-Mart's overarching presence. The deal also gives Wal-Mart a vital link to AOL customers already connected to the Internet.

"Even more than the site relaunch, we're excited about what the AOL relationship means to our customers. ... Stay tuned," Berryhill said.

Bentonville, Ark.-based Wal-Mart operates more than 2,485 stores across the United States.