AOL Beefs Up E-Shopping Tool

Aiming to grab a larger segment of the e-commerce market, America Online rolled out a new shopping tool Monday that integrates consumer product reviews and comparative pricing.

The Web giant’s shopping hub, Shop@AOL, has undergone key navigational changes and now features an enhanced personalized interface. In addition, the redesign provides special promotions and incentives.

“When people come online they want to find a shopping experience that brings them the best selection of merchants, products and easy-to-use features,” said AOL senior vice president Katherine Borsecnik.

Shopping Around

One of the components of the revamped Shop@AOL will be its Shopping Assistant, which enables comparison shopping capabilities and product ratings through a drop-down toolbar. AOL features more than 300 merchants, including Barnes & Noble, J.Crew, Sears and Target.

In its previous incarnation, the shopping hub offered no such pricing wizards at a time when many similar competitor sites did. AOL said it decided against utilizing them in the past because retailers worried that direct comparisons would lead to lower pricing.

However, the company now says this function will cater to the current breed of online shoppers who often visit more than one site before making a purchase. Users will also be able to bookmark items that they plan to purchase in the future.

“Any time we add features, it is something customers are seeking to help their online shopping experience,” AOL Spokesperson Julie Mason told the E-Commerce Times. “Our goal is to make it as easy as possible.”

The assistant will be available through the company’s new client software AOL 6.0 later this fall.

Improving Follow Through

Shoppers who abandon their shopping carts because of frustrating checkout procedures constitute one of the largest hurdles that e-tailers encounter. To counter this problem, AOL plans to aggressively market its electronic wallet, which stores credit card and personal information so customers can avoid filling out data with each transaction. The information will be stored on secure AOL servers.

Although the capability has been in place for about two years, the company said it will step up its efforts to help its merchant partners install the software and solidify their technical capacity to ensure the wallet is fully functional on their sites.

According to AOL, almost 70 percent of its 24 million members made purchases via the Web in the past six months. The company calculates that the total online spending by its members climbed to $4.9 billion (US$) in the quarter ended June 30th, more than double the $2.4 billion spent during the same quarter in 1999.

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