Retailers Take Notice: Will Customers .shop at Your .store?
Have you thought about establishing a new distinctive web address for your business? Do you worry that someone else may try to register your brand name within one of the new generic top level domains (gTLDs)? Whether consciously or not, many retailers have been sitting on the sidelines during the rollout of new gTLDs. But the recent approvals of .shop, .store, and other gTLDs with especially wide appeal should cause retailers to take notice and revisit their domain name strategies. Even if other gTLDs have not piqued their interest, retailers may want to register additional second-level domains (SLDs) within a gTLD such as .shop either for defensive purposes or for actual use.
In January 2016, GMO Registry, Inc. (GMO) paid $41.5 million to outbid seven other companies for ownership of the .shop gTLD. This was by far the highest amount ever paid by any company for a gTLD. The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) has not yet formally “delegated” the .shop gTLD for use. Therefore, the sunrise registration period in which trademark owners can get a jump on registering SLDs has not yet been announced. However, considering the number of bidders and the hefty price that GMO paid for .shop, it is likely that GMO and others anticipate heavy registration activity and widespread commercial use of the domain.
ICANN also recently approved and delegated the .store gTLD, and the sunrise period for .store is currently open until June 5, 2016. Since the sunrise period will soon close, retailers may want to consider registering SLDs within .store before others grab the names they want. Another gTLD in ICANN’s pipeline that could have broad appeal is .shopping. This, too, bears watching.
Observers may wonder, though, whether the new gTLDs are gaining traction in the marketplace. The use of gTLDs by major companies in the banking and technology industries may indicate a trend toward use of new gTLDs. For example, large banks like Barclays and BNP Paribas have chosen to use their brand-specific gTLDs to replace their original .com web addresses (www.home.barclays and www.mybank.bnpparibas). Similarly, some regional banks like Lead Bank in Kansas City, Missouri have chosen to use the more generic gTLD .bank for their new web address (www.lead.bank).
Last year the gTLD trend attracted another major pioneer, the technology giant, Google. In 2015, Google created an umbrella company called Alphabet and chose www.abc.xyz for its web address. Based on subsequent registrations by others of some 20,000 .xyz domain names, Google's use of a generic gTLD has already influenced other new gTLD registrants, and may encourage other companies to follow suit.
The implementation of gTLDs by large companies like Barclays and Google and the hefty amount paid for .shop are indicators of the potential value and impact of gTLDs. In some cases, a retailer may benefit from using a gTLD that matches its brand. In others, the retailer may benefit from establishing an online presence within a gTLD that corresponds to its field of business (e.g., .bank or .shop). At the very least, retailers should take steps to protect their brand and business from abuse by cyber squatters or cyber criminals. Otherwise, they may risk becoming victims like Burberry, Tommy Hilfiger, and Adidas became in 2013 when the .clothing gTLD became available. When non-affiliated individuals in different regions of the world successfully registered adidas.clothing, burberry.clothing, and tommyhilfiger.clothing, these clothing retailers were forced to expend precious time and financial resources challenging the SLD owners. For tips on protective steps to take with regard to new gTLDs, please see this article here.
It is still too early to know the full extent to which new gTLDs will affect the retail environment. But we do know that three new gTLDs that are especially relevant to retail will become available for registration and use this year. We also know that businesses have already invested significant capital to acquire and control new gTLDs, and that some high profile and established companies have begun using new gTLDs in their businesses. Therefore, now would be a good time for retailers to revisit their online marketing strategies to consider the role of new gTLDs such as .shop, .store, and .shopping.