Microsoft Spins Portal Concept Toward Consumers And Merchants

Microsoft Corp. (Nasdaq: MSFT), one of the computing industry’s early innovators but now a company playing catch-up in the online shopping business, has launched its new MSN eShop in an effort to reach out to consumers and merchants alike.

The benefits of online shopping malls for consumers have already been widely touted by the hoards of companies launching them every day. Primarily, such sites offer the ability to search through the product listings of many merchants from one location, comparison shop, and execute just one online transaction to complete the purchase of items from a number of stores.

MSN eShop lets consumers search by category or brand, get advice and gift ideas from eShop’s Gift Finder function, and receive updates on daily specials and offers available from various merchants.

In addition, the site offers gift certificates through the ecount transaction service. Shoppers can look up details such as prices, features and specifications for the products they want, view pictures of the items, and read expert reviews or how-to-buy guides to make educated choices.

If two products still look the same after considering all those details, shoppers can compare warranties and return policies to help tip the scales.

Increasing Merchant Exposure

Perhaps setting the site apart, however, will be the way the company plans to integrate product listings into the information categories that are already established on MSN.com. For example, MSN.com’s CarPoint online information service for cars will include listings of related items such as car stereos or alarms available from merchants in the MSN eShop.

Similarly, MSN.com’s MoneyCentral online personal finance service provides links to financial services from affiliated companies. In addition, when MSN.com visitors use the site’s search engine, it will return more than just Web sites and Web pages that include the searcher’s keyword. The results list will also highlight products and services for sale at MSN eShop that fit the search criteria.

In the marketing world, where page impressions and click-throughs are the crucial measuring stick of a successful campaign, MSN’s multi-pronged approach is designed to generate the added exposure merchants are looking for. In addition, tools such as Microsoft Passport and the company’s BizTalk function will help merchants keep their customers happy and, ultimately, repeating their business, Microsoft says.

BizTalk is an “e-commerce framework” that makes it easier for companies to conduct transactions, work together online and provide eShop product specifications, details about special offers and other information to help consumers make buying decisions.

Offline merchants may also see some benefit from Microsoft’s new site. The company provides an online Yellow Pages at eShop to help shoppers who have been stymied on the Web find what they are looking for in their own neighborhoods.

Established Merchants On Board

The eShop launched yesterday with a handful of established online merchants on board, including 1-800-FLOWERS.COM, 800.COM, Eddie Bauer Online, Expedia.com, Garden.com, PETsMART.com, sears.com, ShopSports.com, Toysrus.com, ToyTime.com and wine.com.

Shoppers can even use eShop to move from one online shopping mall to another, since Amazon.com is one of eShop’s affiliated retailers.

“MSN eShop is a key part of our marketing strategy because it provides visibility to millions of qualified customers and it allows us to market to online consumers using our own merchandising concepts,” 1-800-FLOWERS.COM senior vice president Chris McCann said.

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