iCanBuy.com Opens E-Commerce for Kids

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iCanBuy.com (www.iCanBuy.com), San Francisco, was launched late last month to help give kids the ability to shop, save and donate online anytime they want with their parents' money in lieu of getting their permission.

But before kids can begin shopping at one of the 20 online retailers currently partnering with iCanBuy.com, including Outpost.com, Whutever.com by Fingerhut, American Eagle Outfitters, Pro-Se Sports and KidFlix.com, their parents must set up an online cash account with personalized spending limits and account management capabilities. As part of the service, which is free for them to use, parents can also designate which sites they want their children to be able to shop from.

"The kids will have access to all of the sites we are partnering with unless their parents restrict them from purchasing products from certain ones," said Paul Herman, co-founder/CEO of iCanBuy.com. "To keep kids from visiting sites they feel are inappropriate they can uncheck them at our home page."

Parents also have the ability to change and set the transaction limits their children can spend at certain sites.

Herman said the idea for the site came from the amount of teens and kids currently online coupled with the fact that last year that age group spent more than $140 billion offline.

"When doing our research we saw that more than 10 million kids in that age range were using the Web," he said. "Yet they did not have an easy way to do e-commerce, and we wanted to create and develop some financial power for them on the Web. But we wanted to do it in a way that has their parents' permission wrapped around it."

Herman said this is not yet a billion-dollar market but believes it will be within the next few years.

iCanBuy.com soon expects to begin conducting co-marketing campaigns with its retail partners by placing ads for the site on their home pages. It also has plans to expand the number of retailers it is partnering with in the future. To help promote the site, iCanBuy.com is donating $30 in iCanBuy bucks to anyone who opens an online savings account.

Those looking to set up accounts for their kids must make it at least a $25 minimum. They also can choose to do it on a $5 a week electronic allowance. According to Herman, there is no maximum amount that parents can set for the cash accounts.

Seema Williams, an analyst at Forrester Research, Cambridge, MA, said the two most challenging hurdles that iCanBuy.com is going to face are that kids have not taken to e-commerce as quickly as expected and that the e-wallet technology has not been as receptive as anticipated.

Williams said the service could become attractive quickly if the comfort level is high, they make it interesting for kids and make the advantages of using it visible. To participate, parents must go to the site and put in their address information, create a user name and password that their kids will have to enter before using the service. The site has various security levels according to Herman that would prevent a child from grabbing a parent's credit card and signing on himself.

Herman would not disclose the number of people who have opened accounts for their kids. Although he did say that since their soft launch, the amount of people visiting the site and opening accounts has doubled each day.

Other features of the site include the ability to make donations to charities and participate in moderated chat rooms. Kids can also add items to their WishList, a password-protected list that parents and relatives can view and make purchases from on the spot.

Other retailers iCanBuy.com has partnered with include beyond.com, MXGonline, Alloy Online, PC Flowers & Gifts and Cductive. Along with those retailers iCanBuy.com also is working with Security First Network Bank, Child Welfare League of America, three distribution partners and Talk City, which provides chat room capabilities.

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