New Shopping Site Rates Merchants, Tracks Best Buys

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Internet Access Financial Corp., San Francisco, last week launched an online shopping site that provides ratings on merchants who do business over the Internet and hunts down the best buys on products for holders of the company's NextCard Visa card.


GoShopping, www.nextcard.com/shopping, offers two tools for consumers: Shopping Guide and Bargain Finder. Shopping Guide ranks online merchants on criteria ranging from prices and product selection to shipping practices, privacy policies and the ease of navigating their sites. Shoppers can access more than 450 merchants, including book seller Amazon.com, Office Depot, computer hardware and software merchant Cyberian Outpost, 1-800-Flowers, apparel and furnishings catalog retailer Spiegel, online general merchant store iQVC and music store CDnow. The ratings are based on data from consumer surveys carried out by Binary Compass Enterprises, a marketing research firm that specializes in e-commerce.


The Bargain Finder tool, which is designed for customers who have a particular product in mind, is a database search engine that tracks down the best buys on the item from a database of more than 100 sites. Searches are carried out by key words, allowing customers to enter a product name or a brand name. If the price is right, users have the option of clicking on a hyperlink to the retailer's site to buy the product directly.


"People can go and find the products they want and find the deals and find the merchants that they want," said Richard Goebel, director of business development at Internet Access, "and we obviously want them to open their wallet and use their NextCard."


The NextCard Visa includes features targeted toward Internet users, including online credit approval, interactive choice of terms and card design, automated balance transfers, and a 100 percent online safe shopping guarantee. NextCard has received 300,000 customer applications since December 1997, and its holders number "in the tens of thousands," according to Goebel. Though customers can receive online credit approval in under 30 seconds, they must wait to receive the card in the mail before using it.


Under NextCard's safe shopping pledge, customers are not liable for losses that result if their credit card numbers are stolen while they're shopping over the Internet, no matter from what sites the customers buy. The protection guarantee extends to card numbers stolen outside cyberspace.


"We're basically saying, (shop with) anybody online who accepts a Visa card. Go ahead and feel comfortable, because you're protected," Goebel said, adding that Internet Access Financial has found that the occurrence of credit card fraud on the Internet more or less mirrors the rest of the industry. "Basically, you set aside for bad debt and fraud and charge-offs. It's part of your business model."


Privately held Internet Access Financial Corp. markets NextCard through a partnership with Heritage Bank of Commerce, San Jose, CA.
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