Amazon Opens Software Download Store (Nasdaq: AMZN) launched a new software download store Monday, aimed at providing customers with near-instant access to products it already sells by mail.

The download option also enables the Seattle, Washington-based e-tailer to sell software without having to handle or ship the product to the customer.

“We can now meet the needs of our customers in a matter of minutes instead of a matter of days,” Amazon general manager of software Kirk Koenigsbauer said. “Near real-time delivery is a huge benefit to software shoppers.”

Customers who need the latest virus protection software to rescue an infected personal computer, for instance, are probably not willing or able to wait for delivery by mail. Amazon is also hoping the download option will appeal to U.S. customers preparing their own tax returns.

Secure Process

The process for buying software via download will be the same for Amazon shoppers as the process for buying electronic books, the company said. After completing checkout, customers will receive a URL for download by e-mail.

Amazon partnered with Ingram Micro (NYSE: IM) and Preview Systems (Nasdaq: PRVW) to create the download system.

The launch of the download store is designed to coincide with the start of the busy tax preparation season in the U.S., when millions of Americans turn to software programs that enable them to complete their own tax returns. Tax titles are among the first wave of software being offered for download.

Cost-Cutting Attempts

Increasing its sale of downloads, and therefore reducing reliance on traditional delivery and shipment methods, could help Amazon cut costs and boost its bottom line. A study released last week by Jupiter Media Metrix found that more than 40 percent of e-tailers lose money on the shipping and handling process.

On Friday, Amazon also announced plans to consolidate its European customer service operations, closing a facility in The Hague, Netherlands, and offering all 240 employees the option of relocating to either the UK or Germany.

Amazon is also trying to emerge from the shadows of its largest layoffs to date, which involved the firing of 1,300 employees last month. A Seattle-based union continues to press the company on its policy toward workers, and helped stage a brief employee walkout last week.

Not Slowing Down

Though the e-tailer has caught flack from some analysts for trying to spread its reach across too many product lines, Amazon has produced a stream of new offerings in recent months.

In November, Amazon began offering wireless phones and calling plans, and just after Christmas, the company opened an outlet section on its site touting after-holiday bargains.

Amazon also unveiled music and video downloads within the past year.

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