The once limitless internet is growing tighter. This week Wal-Mart and America On Line jointly announced a “wide-ranging strategic alliance” to provide internet users with “convenient, low-cost access”. The alliance will create a new Internet Service Provider (ISP) and “cross-marketing initiatives” between the two companies. In other words, this new agreement will try to take away market share from hundreds of locally-based internet service providers who helped all of us get on the net, AND this new “customized version of Compuserve” will include AOL 5.0 software that includes “a convenient link to Wal-Mart’s internet shopping destination”. The Net’s noose tightens. Join this new ISP and you will be “linked” — an appropriate term — to Wal-Mart’s new website, which is being unrolled in January 2000. Wal-Mart’s current website is cold and otherworldly, occupied by Walmartian figurines holding out their arms in some kind of intergalactic gesture of friendship. As part of the marriage to AOL, Wal-Mart has agreed to promote the new ISP service through media ads and in-store promotions. Wal-Mart hopes that AOL’s 19 million members will link themselves into the new Wal-Mart site. The companies also announced that they will be exploring “next generation interactive devices” such as AOL TV, that will be designed to appeal to Wal-Mart customers. AOL’s chief honcho said his company wants to be “everywhere our customers are..and there’s no better way to do that than work with Wal-Mart”. So this alliance combines the world’s largest retailer with the “global leader in interactive services” to follow you everywhere you are. For its part, Wal-Mart said its AOL link will help “millions of its customers to be “enabled” to “obtain affordable, convenient internet service”, but even more significant, to “access our on-line store”. Wal-Mart says the new agreement is “consistent with our heritage” — which is curious for a company that was created in 1962.What heritage? “We are bringing a new form of shopping to people in small to medium sized communities across the country,” says Wal-Mart.
There’s only one response to the marriage of these two commercial Titans: Drop your AOL service, disconnect your Compuserve, and find yourself a local ISP. As Wal-Mart moves from bricks and mortar stores to clicks and mortar stores, it will attempt to do the same thing it’s done to Main Street to those who live on e St. Kill off the local ISPs, encourage through alliances a one-way path to wal-mart.com. AOL consumers can strike back by emailing AOL Bob Pittman and telling him that you no longer want to connect with AOL because of its “strategic alliance” with Wal-Mart. America Online and Compuserve users: you have nothing to lose now but your chain stores. It’s time to de-link yourself from this “cross marketing” alliance. There may be 100 million Americans who shop at Wal-Mart every week, but there are 168 million of us who don’t. Goodbye, America Online!