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Bargain-Basement Promoter Attracts Who's Who in DM

Web startup Impulse! Buy Network Inc. plans to launch a service today aimed at spurring Internet sales by pitching limited-time bargain-basement deals. And the company says it has a group of who's-who direct marketing companies as charter clients.

Through the Impulse! Buy Network, merchants create their own online promotions using customizable banner-ad-like formats. The firm then serves the ads from a central point.

According to Impulse, one particularly appealing aspect is that merchants can create on the fly time- and stock-sensitive Web-wide promotions that traditionally are limited to the merchant's site.

And, the company says, the service can serve banners in real time. Therefore, as orders come in, the banners can display an accurate inventory countdown for consumers and urge them to buy while supplies last.

“We're hoping it will really create a sense of urgency in the customer,” said Karen Carpenter, spokeswoman for apparel cataloger The Territory Ahead Santa Barbara, CA. She said the option to specify quantities was attractive because it will allow the cataloger to test e-commerce without risking inventory troubles for other sales channels. In 1997, it mailed 18 million catalogs.

Among other companies testing the service are Hammacher Schlemmer, J. Crew, Lands' End, NECX, Omaha Steaks, Packard Bell, The Sharper Image, Garden Escape, Virtual Vineyards, Wal-Mart, Road Runner Sports, Harry and David's, Hickory Farms and 1-800-FLOWERS.

“Our goal is to become the Web circular,” said Mark Goldstein, CEO of Impulse! Buy Network, Burlingame, CA.

The network guarantees consumers lower prices than are available at the merchants' sites. Its services cost a flat fee starting at $1,000 per month, plus a negotiated commission, which usually is 8 percent. Goldstein is offering merchants the first month free.

“The first 90 days is our charter period, and nothing ever works perfectly,” Goldstein said. “We don't want to charge until we know everyone is happy.”

Citing estimates that more than 70 percent of advertising inventory on the Web goes unsold, he said the network (www.impulsebuy.com) will distribute merchants' offers mainly by purchasing remnant banner ad space from Web publishers.

Consequently, its clients cannot specify on which sites their ads will appear.

“If you have to appear on Yahoo during the 'Seinfeld' thing, then go buy it,” Goldstein said. But, he said, the network won't place ads on sites that are obviously bad matches. “You won't see ads for baseball cards on iVillage because that's a women's site.”

Jim Nail, senior analyst at Forrester Research, Cambridge, MA, verified Goldstein's estimates on the amount of unsold inventory on the Web. Remnant space is plentiful, even on the Internet's top properties.

“What's happening is that the number of page views on sites are growing so fast that ad sales are chasing inventory,” Nail said.

The network also plans to deliver clients' offers to consumers using e-mail marketing services InfoBeat and Intellipost. Through a partnership with order-processing firm OrderTrust, Lowell, MA, it will centrally process orders and transmit them to the seller for fulfillment.

Melissa Bane, senior analyst for The Yankee Group, Boston, said online merchants are increasingly going for the impulse sale.

“There is definitely a trend toward one-click shopping on the Web, and there's something to be said for making shopping as easy as possible,” she said. The Impulse! Buy Network “is like having a mini clearance rack all over the Web.”

Donna Iucolano, director of interactive services at 1-800-FLOWERS, Westbury, NY, said that because the flower industry is such a holiday-driven business, her firm must look for nontraditional ways to sell online.

“If you look at our year, there are about 40 days that are important to us,” Iucolano said. “With these types of programs, we can build holiday blitz promotions.”

Iucolano said 1-800-FLOWERS also plans some “get-them-while-they-last offers” on the network.

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