Web venture hopes consumers will eShop

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With quick downloads, free log-ons and a guarantee against credit-card fraud, eShop Plaza hopes to eliminate consumer fears about online shopping.

The electronic mall, which launched last week on the World Wide Web with merchants Tower Records, 1-800-Flowers, Spiegel, Good Guys and Insight Enterprises, was designed with reluctant consumers in mind, said Will Poole, president-CEO of eShop, San Mateo, Calif.

eShop's interface gives retailers "buildings" on the Plaza. Intelligent agents can remember a shopper's preferences, and merchants can also offer coupons good on purchases made at the mall.

But to use the site, shoppers must install additional--albeit free--software on their computer, a factor that may limit eShop's acceptance. Most online shopping doesn't require additional software to work.

Merchants will help publicize eShop by distributing 100,000 starter kits. By teaming with those merchants, eShop is also able to generate consumer awareness through the merchants' distribution of it 100,000 software starter kits, he said.

Insight Direct, a mail-order computer products company, will give away software with each modem sold in 1996. eShop will be bundled on all CD-ROM encyclopedias distributed by Compton's New Media next year.

The software also can be downloaded from eShop's Web site.

"We basically give the software away as fast as we can wherever we can," said Mr. Poole. Advertising from Austin Kerr Marketing, San Jose, Calif., breaks in December issues of Wired, NetGuide and Family PC; ads will also appear on the Web sites of c-net and InfoSeek.

While eShop answers some of the questions regarding online commerce, consumers need more than 3-D graphics and fraud protection to make them shop online, said Emily Green, senior analyst with Forrester Research, Cambridge, Mass. Few online users have made the jump to electronic shopping.

Tower Records will make available a 100,000-record searchable database, while Insight Direct will offer 3,000 products from its catalog.

Insight sees its eShop presence as an extension of its Internet sales division, said John-Scott Dixon, manager-electronic media.

"Some people are looking for a more flavorful approach than the Web can offer," he said.

Copyright November 1995 Crain Communications Inc.

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