After months of idly watching its competitors set up shop on the Internet, Virgin Megastores said it will open its doors online May 11, an effort it hopes will establish itself as a major music e-tailer and drive traffic to its brick-and-mortar stores as well.

Initially, Virgin will launch a Web site (www.virginmega.com) specifically targeting buyers in the U.S., selling compact discs, videos and entertainment-related books and merchandise. A version is available now.

Regional sites targeting buyers in the U.K., Europe and Japan are planned by the end of the year.

Additionally, the site will include Radio Free Virgin, a listening station featuring full-length album tracks on 12 channels, using Microsoft’s Windows Media Technologies 4.0 player, a rival to RealNetworks’ G2 audio player.

DJs from stores in Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco, London, Paris and Tokyo will host six of the channels, with the remaining six dedicated to genre-specific music.

Similar to Amazon.com, the site will recommend other CDs that other consumers have purchased. Store employees will also provide reviews and recommendations for customers.

And, in hopes of beating out already-established music e-tailers, Virgin will offer repeat customers free merchandise through its Virgin Megapoints program and prices “competitive with other online retailers.”

Virgin’s E-Commerce division will oversee the Internet operation from Los Angeles.

Until now, Virgin has been trailing other brick-and-mortar and Internet-based music retailers such as Tower Records, BMG, Best Buy, CDnow and Amazon.com to dominate the online music-selling market, expected to reach $2.3 billion by 2003.

Virgin will promote the Web site through the 200 stores it operates in 14 countries, along with traditional online and offline promotions, such as radio spots and print ads.