E-Commerce Giants Adopt Uniform Payment Format

Hoping to reduce the number of online orders abandoned because of the hassle of filling out forms, some of the biggest computer, retail and credit card companies have agreed on a format that will enable customers to enter the information only once — for transactions at many different sites.

An industry alliance — founded by America Online, American Express, Compaq Computer Corp., CyberCash, IBM, MasterCard, Microsoft Corp., SETCo, Sun Microsystems, Transactor Networks, Trintech, and Visa U.S.A — announced Monday the “Electronic Commerce Modeling Language” (ECML).

ECML will enable customers to enter key information such as credit card and billing and shipping address in “digital wallets.” The stored information then will be used to make purchases, eliminating the need to re-enter it with each transaction.

Abandoned ‘Shopping Carts’

Backers hope ECML will reduce the number of abandoned online “shopping carts.” The alliance cited a February Jupiter Communications study that found that 27 percent of potential online buyers abandon their orders before check-out because of the number of forms they have to complete.

Steve Ryan, senior vice president for emerging technologies at Visa U.S.A., called ECML a “major step to achieving widespread adoption of e-commerce.”

“Up until now,” he said, “there has not been a standard method for capturing information about which credit card, billing or shipping address customers want to use in any given online transaction.”

Support from Major Retailers

ECML has attracted support from major online merchants including Beyond.com, Dell Computer Corp., fashionmall.com, healthshop.com, Nordstrom.com, Omaha Steaks, Reel.com and 1-800-Batteries. In addition, a Jupiter Communications study suggests enormous growth potential: 76 percent of merchants surveyed indicated they are willing to participate in a “multi-site wallet enterprise,” the study found.

“We believe that ECML will dramatically improve the on-line shopping experience for the consumer,” said Eric Miles, vice president for Industry Solutions Marketing at Compaq, North America. “Having this standard available will simplify the process for on-line merchants to enable acceptance of payments from their web site and drive growth in e-commerce business.”

The alliance says streamlining the purchase process over the Internet will greatly increase consumer adoption of online shopping.

“As leaders in the industry, we collectively have a responsibility to make shopping online easier; the growth of e-commerce depends on it,” said Blake Irving, general manager for the Consumer and Commerce Group at Microsoft. “We’re confident the new ECML format is a step in the right direction.”

ECML is compatible with existing privacy and security initiatives, the alliance said.

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