Partnerships May Boost FreeShop Visits

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FreeShop expects a 50 percent increase in traffic to its Web site of free and trial offers because of its recently signed marketing agreements with Microsoft Corp., Tripod and CNET.


List manager List Services Corp. (LSC) believes that the predicted million-plus visits a month will also increase the universe of FreeShop's 781,000-name international master file.


FreeShop (www.freeshop.com), Seattle, is an online storefront that generates leads-at a fee of from 40 cents to up to $60--through client-sponsored product offers such as free trial subscriptions. The site currently receives more than 700,000 visits a month and has taken more than 3 million online orders since it launched in 1994.


Under the new agreements, FreeShop is being promoted with banners on Microsoft sites MSNBC, Expedia, CarPoint, Hotmail, Encarta, the Internet Gaming Zone, Microsoft Investor and Microsoft Search. It also is promoted on CNET, the San Francisco computer information site, and Tripod, the Williamstown, MA, Web community for 18- to 34-year-olds that FreeShop says is the 10th-most trafficked site on the Web.


"This is one file we believe that will be building quite rapidly in the next several months," said Elaine Zito, director of marketing for List Services, Bethel, CT. It projects the alliances will boost monthly hotline names from 48,000 in June to 60,000 this month.


The new alliances will be used to expand on the FreeShop concept "Find It. Try It. Buy It." The site currently has three levels of offers: free, free trial and full purchase. Web newcomers are encouraged to familiarize themselves with the online order process before committing to a monetary purchase.


"The novice to online commerce feels a lot more comfortable ordering something for free," said Sean Stewart, FreeShop's communications manager. "Once they find out it's really easy to order, they can proceed to a free trial or a risk-free trial."


As the Web continues it rapid expansion, the rental of online buyer lists could become a lucrative source of income for individual sites just as it is for catalogers and publishers. Stewart cautioned, however, that for list rental to work, buyers' privacy rights must be protected. Every site should include a clear policy detailing planned usage of names and give buyers the chance to opt out.


"As long as companies are following DMA privacy guidelines and heed the requests of customers, they shouldn't be afraid at all to take the next step and use the list,'' Stewart said.


LSC, which has managed the America Online file since it came on the market in 1994, has seen a growth in the demand for online buyer lists in the last year. Zito sees online lists as a complement to existing list sources.


"With Free Shop, these are people who are really familiar with direct mail, and the online services are really an extension of that," she said. "I don't think one is replacing the other. I don't think people are giving up their subscriptions because they use e-mail or the Internet. As all businesses are now finding their way to the Internet, online and direct mail lists will work hand in hand."
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