INTERACTIVE;MALL MANIA INVADES ONLINE ARENA

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Three big names-Time Warner, IBM Corp. and Microsoft Corp.-are developing shopping malls on the Internet. But there's still no sure bet the masses are ready.

Time Warner this fall will unveil a completely redesigned DreamShop, an Internet and interactive TV shopping service comprising 18 merchandisers including Spiegel, Eddie Bauer and Williams-Sonoma (http://www.dreamshop.com).

IBM EYES 20 RETAILERS

IBM, meanwhile, this fall will open World Avenue, an Internet shopping mall it expects will feature about 20 retailers.

Additionally, Microsoft Corp. is expanding into virtual shopping with its acquisition of eShop (http://www.eshop.com), a small electronic commerce software company whose clients include 1-800-FLOWERS and Spiegel.

eSHOP, MSN MALL MERGE

Microsoft will merge eShop Plaza, the Internet mall started last November, with MSN Mall, part of the Microsoft Network online service, to turn the MSN Web site (http://www.msn.com) into a shopping destination.

Retailing, however, is secondary in Microsoft's acquisition of eShop. It primarily bought the company for its software, which will become the base for Microsoft Merchant, a product scheduled for a fourth-quarter launch.

Pricing for IBM's World Avenue will vary. IBM says it's keeping the price down by taking a cut of revenues. For a typical merchant wanting to offer 300 items, IBM will charge a $30,000 set-up fee, $2,500 in monthly maintenance and 5% of revenues.

IBM expects to have 20 retailers signed by this fall; Limited Inc.'s Express and a Canada department store chain, Hudson's Bay, are the first.

Contributing: Debra Aho Williamson.

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