Free Wake-Up Calls Online

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Web.de, one of Germany's fastest-growing Internet portals both in terms of sales and losses, has figured out a novel way of attracting new customers -- free wake-up calls.


To register as a Web.de user, a customer must click on an icon titled anmelden, which means register, and then accept the license conditions and enter address data.


The next step is to move to the service sector of the home page, click on wake-up call and enter a user name and password. Users can plan such calls up to a year in advance.


The gimmick might help attract enough new customers to reduce swollen marketing costs and cut last year's deficit of 28.5 million euros -- the equivalent of about $25 million at a rate of 91 cents per euro -- for Germany's 10th-largest portal.


A study by HSBC bank's German subsidiary, Trinkaus und Burkhard, found that Web.de earned almost 8 million euros from advertising and had a market share of 2.8 percent. The site claimed a 2000 turnover of 10.6 million euros.


But like most sites, it overspent on marketing in an effort to expand its reach. To some extent it succeeded. The number of registered users increased to 3 million in December, double the number projected at the IPO early in 2000.


The site went public before the dot-com crash, raising 183.6 million euros. It had a cash position of more than 168 million euros at the end of the year.


Management claims 400,000 new registered users per month. It said this was the largest increase among major portal competitors, including AOL Germany and T-Online, the two largest in Germany, which is Europe's biggest market.


One reason for the portal's rapid growth, analysts said, was its strong erotic content, ranging from porn schedules on commercial TV -- programming that is common on most European channels -- to tips on how to flirt in English.


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