With the names of applicants for new generic top-level domains published by ICANN this year, Roland LaPlante, CMO at Afilias, discusses what the change means for retailers.
Amazon, Net-A-Porter, Walmart, TK Maxx, Macy’s. These are just a handful of easily recognisable players in the retail market who, this year, applied to be part of a major change in the history of the Internet: new generic Top-Level Domains (gTLDs).
On 30 May 2012, the body that governs Internet address naming conventions, ICANN
closed its four-month application window for new gTLDs. This will result in thousands of new web extensions in categories such as ‘dot Brand’ and ‘dot City’ joining well-known extensions like .com or .info. These changes were designed by ICANN to increase internet innovation as well as increase competition and choice for consumers and businesses.
Consumers will be able to shop online with increased confidence that they are buying the real deal. For example, a company like Tiffany might enable only trusted partners and resellers to have a .tiffany extension, so buyers could be sure that products purchased from these addresses are not counterfeit.
The dot Brand concept also lends itself to direct consumer marketing, where pointing customers to an online presence such as ‘voucher.retailer’ is far more memorable and concise than www.retailer.co.uk/voucher. Retailers who operate a new gTLD will no longer need to rely on advertising third parties like Facebook and Google to drive traffic to their domains and will be able to erase tag lines like ‘Find us on Facebook’ or ‘Google us’ from their marketing materials.
In addition, a number of retailers have applied to be the owner of extensions that feature generic terms. As an example, Amazon has applied to operate ‘.books’. While this concept gives an added level of authority to a retailer’s position within its industry, some have argued against the use of generic words as top-level domains because they are 'publicly owned'. There is also a concern that, by letting companies like Amazon and Google have generic TLDs like ‘.books’ and ‘.game’, ICANN is unfairly perpetuating monopolies.
However, the internet has dealt for years with the use of generic terms across all existing top-level domains. For example, beauty.com is a successful company owned by Walgreens. Obviously, ‘beauty’ is a generic term but it has been a registered trademark in the USA since 1996, and there have been no major concerns about its use as part of a domain name. Currently, L’Oreal has applied to operate a ‘.beauty’ domain (like Amazon has done with ‘.books’). I suspect the end result for a ‘coupon.beauty’ address will be the same as it has been for ‘beauty.com/coupon’: business as usual.
Another development that comes with these Internet changes is the introduction of non-Roman character TLDs, called Internationalized Domain Names (IDNs). This has largely been neglected as a talking point among media outlets in the Western world, but this change presents a tremendous opportunity for international businesses looking to build their presence in the world’s growing markets. People often speak of the growing BRIC markets, meaning Brazil, Russia, India and China. For the first time, businesses can reach BRIC users with website addresses completely in such scripts as Cyrillic, Devanagari and Chinese, as well as create unique marketing in BRIC countries as well as other geographic regions where Roman-script languages are not the first option of local speakers. Companies including Amazon, Walmart and Nokia are among the applicants for IDNs. It will be interesting to see how these evolve as part of their international online strategies over the coming decade.
Digital retailers, along with the wider online world, eagerly wait to see how the use of these domains unfolds over the next couple years. And it will be interesting to see the approach of those retailers that chose not to apply for an extension this year, and what responses they will make to match the marketing successes of those who did.