Sam’s Club Offers Cut-Rate Web Sites

Wal-Mart-owned warehouse chain Sam’s Club is now offering low-cost Web sites for its members, which are mostly small businesses. The move has implications for the growth of local search.

The company now offers a basic Web site, domain name and email address for as little as $5 a month, or $50 a year. Sam’s Club members go online to set up a Web site for the basic $5 fee, which includes domain registration and setup. Free phone online technical support is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Growth in the paid local search advertising area, expected by the Kelsey Group to reach $2.5 billion in the U.S. by 2008, has been hampered by factors including the fact that many small and medium-sized businesses don’t have Web sites.

The new offering “might unlock the door,” said Neal Polachek, senior vice president of the Kelsey Group. Polachek said adoption of the service was likely, given the low fee. “At $5, this is a very compelling proposition,” augmented by the small businesses’ existing relationship with Sam’s. “I think more small businesses will be getting some form of a Web site,” Polachek said.

In January 2000, a Kelsey Group study found that 25 percent of small business advertisers had a Web site. By June 2003, that number had almost doubled, to 48 percent, Polachek said.

Under the new service, Sam’s Club members can go online and use industry-specific templates to build their own sites without having to learn HTML or similar technical skills. They can also have a Sam’s Club designer build the site for them, though this is more costly. The basic business Web sites start at $5 a month. E-commerce sites, which start at $10 a month, include online store capabilities such as shopping carts, online payment processing and sales reporting tools.

The company claims that a small business owner can set up a business site “in just a few minutes” with the service.

Sam’s Club has more than 530 stores in the United States, with 46 million members, though not all of these members are small business owners.

Many ISPs and major Internet players have jumped on the local search bandwagon, with Google launching Google Local in March. Competitor Yahoo launched SmartView on Yahoo Maps earlier that same month, and America Online’s Mapquest began beta testing local search at the end of March.

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