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MSN Shopping to Launch Mobile Store in April

SEATTLE — Microsoft Corp.'s MSN Shopping online service will launch next month on cell phones and personal digital assistants, entering a fray that includes major portals AOL and Yahoo.

Called MSN eShop on Mobile, the service goes live after a beta test initiated in January lived up to company expectations.

“We're targeting the same target: mobile users that use MSN Mobile,” Deborah Levinger, director of MSN Shopping, said at the Direct Marketing Association's net.marketing show yesterday.

The typical MSN Mobile user is male, tech-savvy, highly educated and into computers and consumer electronics.

“It's the same as the early Internet adopter,” Levinger said. “The mobile demographic mirrors the demographic of the early Internet adopter.”

At launch, the MSN eShop on Mobile will feature only 5 percent of all the merchants that have stores in MSN's online shopping area. This was because only a small percentage of the MSN merchant base had stores that were mobile-ready.

Levinger would not disclose which stores would debut on MSN eShop on Mobile but said they were in the consumer electronics, computers and gift categories.

The mobile shopping area will kick off with features such as daily and weekly specials by store, search function for products and seasonal guides. Consumers can go to the mobile site, search for the product, click and buy it.

“It'll work similar to how it is on the Internet, but you have to scale it down for mobile,” Levinger said.

In a display of channel collaboration, consumers can also click on an icon that connects to the retailer's toll-free number.

“What we're trying to do is make sure the usability of our site works well on the mobile device,” Levinger said.

Begun last spring, the MSN Mobile service has attracted 1.5 million users. MSN will be actively pushing its new mobile eShop to these users and will try to entice consumers away from rivals AOL and Yahoo.

While mobile commerce is on the rise in Europe and Asia and 30 percent of all stock purchases in Japan are via cell phone, Levinger said, “the United States is catching up.” Levinger sees enormous potential for mobile commerce in the United States.

“It's very early, but consumers are beginning to use mobile devices the way they use the Internet,” Levinger said. “So just as they want to communicate, search or shop on the Internet, they want to do this on mobile devices.”

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