December 26, 2000, 9:55 AM

The Blue Card And Blue Skies

(Page 3 of 3)

Aside from the American Express Blue card, which features a smart chip and reader that work with the wallet to secure and store information online, the most recent high-profile ewallet offering is from Purchase, N. Y.-based MasterCard International. MasterCard launched a major national television campaign in July which followed its well-known “priceless” format. It featured a man shopping in a real world simulation of the Internet depicted as a retail store. The shopper avoids a congested check out line by using the ewallet.

MasterCard geared its ewallet towards experienced shoppers. “Those who will download the wallet will have some experience shopping online so they would know the benefit of using the wallet,” says Larry Flanagan, the company’s senior vice president of North America marketing. MasterCard is working with Brodia, a San Francisco-based ewallet company that provides the service not only to the association but to card issuers also, including Wells Fargo Bank, Capital One, Providian and MBNA.

To use a Brodia wallet, consumers must go to Brodia.com or a partner’s link to sign up. They then can click open the wallet to make purchases. Consumers apply for the wallet online through a card issuer’s web site, which is connected to Brodia.com.

While ewallets are not overwhelming online shoppers today, there are a number of players providing the service. Citibank in August launched a free downloadable toolbar from Obongo Inc. that lets users shop over the Internet with what it calls single-click login, registration, form filling, searching and comparison shopping. This is the version 2.0 of the Citiwallet, now called Citibank Toolbar.

Morgan Stanley Dean Witter Discover offers the Discover Desk$hop virtual credit card that fills out forms and secures the user’s Discover card number via encryption. Cardholders also can use tabs on the menu to shop on Discover’s Internet ShopCenter that includes online deals for cardholders, store search options, account access options and a file to update the form-filling information.

But not all credit card companies believe the buying public is ready for ewallets. Visa U.S.A. is working on but has not yet introduced an online wallet. A Visa spokesperson says “though the promise that digital wallets offer is appealing, consumers are still unaware of their functionality.” While there is little empirical evidence thus far, market observers say consumers are content to retype credit card, billing and shipping information for different purchases because it’s what they know.

Although the number of ewallet users is small now, observers say at least the technology base is there. “Consumers are slow to adopt the ewallet but the card industry is getting ready for when online shopping really takes off,” says John Almash, president of Stratcom, a De Nova Corp. company that does consumer research and business planning including Internet development. And the logic goes that as online shopping increases so will use of ewallets-the card companies are banking on it.

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