From the department of “Well, it was worth a try,” check out this video explaining “Kmart Solutions,” a late-’90s experiment where the company tried to get customers to shop online, but in the store. There’s a lot of emphasis on the possibilities for buying floral arrangements.

The video, via Digg, was uploaded to YouTube by somebody who once worked at Kmart. It was a pilot program, where Kmart installed touchscreen consoles at several stores. If they didn’t have something in stock, you could purchase it via Kmart Solutions. “The system lasted maybe 2 years, as I recall,” wrote the man who put the clip online. “Many people browsed, but few actually purchased anything.”

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This tactic wasn’t totally out of the blue. Sears and J.C. Penney both had sales desks where you could order things out of their catalogs (though of course, that didn’t involve the Internet). And back in the early ‘80s, Sears experimented with a banagrams LaserDisc catalog.

No, what’s wackier is Kmart’s flirtation with becoming an actual ISP, in the earliest days of the dotcom boom, with BlueLight.com. The company buddied up with venture capitalists to create the service, which offered free Internet access. CD-ROMs with the necessary software were given away at Kmart stores across the country.

Newsbytes.com reported at the time:

To get its customers shopping in the cyber-savvy department quickly, Troy, Mich.-based Kmart has turned to Spin Media Network Inc. of San Francisco and its Spinway.com business to manage the new free Internet-access service.... “Internet access is a mainstay in the lives of so many people,” said Floyd Hall, Kmart’s president and chief executive officer. “At Kmart, we recognize the need to remove barriers that may be keeping millions of American shoppers from joining the Internet revolution. BlueLight.com’s free Internet service ...is a special ‘thank-you’ gift to the millions of shoppers who have helped build Kmart into one of the strongest retail brands anywhere.”

All users of the free BlueLight.com services will see a co-branded BlueLight.com/My Yahoo start page when they log on, serving up their personalized news, sports and weather, alongside featured BlueLight.com products. Users can also seamlessly sign up for a Yahoo Mail account and use Yahoo’s instant messaging service once they’re up and running with BlueLight.com.

Within 14 weeks, Kmart had released a press release trumpeting Bluelight.com had hit a million subscribers, which “easily surpasses previous records set by all paid and no-cost Internet service providers.”


Contact the author at kelly@jezebel.com.

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