Excite’s Free Online Stores an Overnight Hit

Excite@Home reported that it already signed up more than a thousand new e-tailers within the first 24 hours of launching its new free online storefront service. The new offering, named “Freetailer,” allows e-commerce newcomers to get a foot in the door by enabling them to set up an Internet store at no cost.

While Excite@Home is not the first Internet portal to offer such a service, it is the first major portal to jump on the free storefront hosting bandwagon. The company said the move is key to its strategy of strengthening its e-commerce position by focusing on small brick-and-mortar businesses’ shift to online sales.

“We discovered that there are a huge number of small businesses that do not have a Web presence — something like 72 percent,” said Dan Odette, Vice President Marketing for Excite Business Applications.

“There is a movement in the industry to go after that segment with free offers,” Odette added. “None of the other companies addressing the need are sizable companies though, while Excite@home has a long history in the e-commerce storefront services business, following the merger with iMall last year.”

Everything But the Kitchen Sink

Freetailer allocates each e-tailer 25 megabytes of computer storage space — an amount that Excite@Home says will allow the placement of “thousands of different types of products.” The service also provides 1 gigabyte per month of bandwidth to accommodate a large flow of site traffic.

As an added benefit, placement in Excite@Home’s online mall will provide entry-level merchants with significantly more visibility than they would be likely to receive of they were operating an independent Web site.

On the downside, however, participating e-tailers must give up a measure of autonomy with respect to their domain names. A store that operates on Excite@Home must use a Web address (URL) that includes the “Freetailer” name, but also incorporates the individual company’s name in the site address. An upgrade is available for the standard domain name registration cost plus a $7.50 (US$) monthly hosting fee.

Still, the tradeoff is viewed as highly advantageous by many prospective e-tailers, who would otherwise have to invest substantial sums to launch their own Web sites. Additionally, many small business startups are unwilling or unable to assume the financial risk involved in building sophisticated sites that incorporate such shopping features as a search engine, a virtual cash register, a shopping cart, and an e-wallet — all of which are included in the Freetailer service.

Excite@Home stores will also feature secure order management, including real-time reporting of customer orders and order/visit statistics, and will offer “business boosting” sales and marketing tips. With this assortment of e-commerce “goodies,” The company says that its service will allow a broad range of Internet neophytes to become “savvy e-tailers.”

Upgrades Available

The introduction of Freetailer does not represent a shift in Excite’s overall e-commerce strategy. “The decision to offer free services does not mean that we are moving away from the paid market, because we have great partners in there — but there is a segment we thought was missing out,” Odette said.

Excite@Home offers e-tailers several upgrades, such as domain name registration, POP e-mail accounts, credit card merchant accounts and payment gateways. Other advanced e-commerce options include integrated advertising programs, expanded product search capabilities, extended FTP options, additional disk storage space and extra bandwidth.

The company also makes further technology upgrades available to its online merchants, including customer interaction services, in conjunction with a variety of third-party vendors.

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