*Success of Priceline Program Spurs Growth

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Priceline.com, Stamford, CT, has drawn 40,000 members to its WebHouse Club since it launched earlier this month, prompting the company to expand the program into Philadelphia and southern New Jersey.


"Originally, our plans were to add markets outside the New York metro area after Jan. 1," said Jonathan Otto, chief executive in charge of WebHouse Club. "But customer demand was so high we decided to begin our expansion just two weeks after our New York launch." The company plans to introduce the program nationwide during the second quarter of next year.


Fueling the growth is an elaborate promotion for the club's "Name Your Own Price for Groceries" program, which lets shoppers in the metropolitan New York area enter prices online they're willing to pay for grocery items. If the price is accepted, shoppers print a coupon - redeemable at more than 1,000 participating supermarkets - that lets them purchase the items at that price.


Distributed through direct mail and free-standing inserts, the promotion is printed on a trifolded, four-color, 75-pound stock with a tipped-on plastic priceline.com membership card. The piece unfolds to 20 inches by 26 inches to reveal a life-sized grocery-bag image and description of how the program works.


A Priceline spokesman would not say how many pieces have been distributed or discuss the cost. One analyst said it was unlikely the promotions printed for less than a dollar each, even if more than 1 million were printed.


Priceline's rapid expansion of the WebHouse Club service also was helped by strategic partnerships with The Grand Union Co. and Key Food Stores Co-op Inc., which recently agreed to become WebHouse Club grocery signatories. Other chains participating in the WebHouse Club include A&P, ShopRite, Waldbaum's, FoodTown, King Kullen, Stop & Shop, the Food Emporium, Gristede's, D'Agostino, Super Food Mart and Pathmark.
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