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Kmart flashes BlueLight at customers

Partly to boost the public profile of its online entity, BlueLight.com, the retailer is bringing back a bit of Americana--complete with flashing lights.

Attention Kmart shoppers: The blue-light special is back.

Partly to boost the public profile of its online entity, BlueLight.com, Kmart is bringing back a bit of Americana--complete with flashing lights, said BlueLight spokesman Dave Karraker.

The mammoth retailer, which tried twice before to build a Web store, is banking big on BlueLight, which last weekend quietly launched a revamped Web site.

Competitors such as Target and Wal-Mart, which shut down its site recently to finish its own makeover, have also throttled up their Web efforts in time for the holidays. They are among the offline companies seizing the opportunity to grab larger shares of the e-commerce market while pure online retailers are getting pounded in the dot-com shakeout.

Some high-profile traditional retailers have flopped trying to go online, notably Toys "R" Us, but other heavyweights continue to back their Net units with dollars and advertising.

"To understand how much cooperation we're getting, one only has to look at Kmart's advertising," Karraker said. "I tell people it's like we have a big brother watching our backs."

Kmart includes BlueLight in all of its radio, TV and newspaper ads. The BlueLight brand is displayed to customers at 21 different places within Kmart's stores, including cash-register receipts, bags and periodic in-store announcements.

The original "blue light" was a flashing light in the middle of Kmart stores that would go off as a clerk would announce the now-cliched: "Attention Kmart shoppers" recommending a "blue-light special" discount item somewhere in the store. The lights have faded over the years, but now management says they are going to be bringing them back company-wide, partly to tout the online service.

The greatest push Kmart gives BlueLight is in handing out at every register in its more than 2,000 stores the software discs that entice customers to use BlueLight as their Internet service provider.

BlueLight has surpassed the 4.5 million-subscriber mark, making it the fastest-growing ISP in history, according to Karraker.

This has helped Kmart leapfrog past Wal-Mart and Target in drawing traffic, Karraker said. Jupiter Media Metrix said that in August, Kmart attracted 2.2 million unique Web users, while Target saw 1.9 million and Wal-Mart 1.5 million.

The reason for the site redesign, Karraker said, was to load more inventory in the Web store. Back in December, when Kmart began its latest e-commerce venture, it charged chief executive Mark Goldstein with multiplying the number of goods sold in the Web store. At the time, the company offered 1,250 products online.

The new site will feature "hundreds of thousands" of items, Karraker said.