Gator.com Takes a Bite out of Filling in Online Registration Forms

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Cyber start-up Gator.com Corp., San Mateo, CA, is expected to launch its marquee product this week, a virtual "smart companion" that fills out order forms and whisks shoppers through online checkouts. If the technology finds acceptance, it eventually will deliver advertisers' targeted pitches as well.


For now, the software -- named Gator -- is free of ads as the company tries to drum up support among Web denizens through an online banner campaign slated to kick off this week. Gator.com will try to tempt consumers with the promise that they'll never again have to type their way through a registration form, no matter where they go on the Web.


The software loads directly onto users' computers and operates with the help of a database of 10,000 online forms from various Web shopping sites. When a consumer comes across a new checkout or registration page on the Net, the product is designed to pull up his or her personal information and update Gator.com's central server with the form's specifics after the consumer fills in the fields.


More sensitive consumer data such as credit card numbers will stay in encrypted form on users' PCs. When they register at www.gator.com, individuals will be asked to provide their name, ZIP code, e-mail address and a password. Users can opt for security that will prevent other users of the same PC from shopping with their personal information.


"We envision a product that will travel the Web beside [consumers]," said Gator.com President/CEO Jeff McFadden, an online veteran who headed up product marketing for Sun Microsystems Inc. and was the first nonfounder to work for Excite.


Netizens often forget specific site passwords or abandon virtual retailers if the sites won't accept the passwords or online IDs they normally use. McFadden expects Gator users to be less inclined to ditch shopping sites in frustration.


But more important for Gator.com's bottom line, he expects consumers to be receptive to client ads the product sends their way through pop-up boxes. For example, an individual perusing a wedding site might be served up with a honeymoon travel package. The product uses a small icon in the bottom right hand corner of PC screens -- similar to the printer icon on a standard Windows screen -- that flashes when a consumer surfs to a site that triggers an offer.


Individuals can ignore the small icon, an option the company built into its product when its prelaunch research indicated what much of the industry has been saying all along: people hate pop-up ads that spring up automatically and slow their machines.


But before anyone can advertise with Gator.com, the firm has to coax people into signing up. Nineteen different test banner ads are slated to run on Excite Shopping, Xoom, MapQuest, RealMedia, women's site iVillage, Lycos and the DoubleClick and Flycast networks. The company is giving away online coupons to registrants, and some banners will try to spur click-throughs with a scratch-and-win sweepstakes.


Scott Eagle, Gator.com's vice president of marketing, would not say how much the company is spending on the media buy but said it will make up "tens of millions" of impressions. The firm expects to add billboard, print and radio ads in the fourth quarter.


Gator.com's software is free to users. The company expects to gain all its revenue through selling targeted ads. Gator.com executives said they haven't decided how they will charge clients.
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