March 10, 2010, 12:00 AM

Visa tests an online payment and comparison shopping service

Visa has begun enrolling what it calls early users into a payments, comparison and web browsing service called Rightcliq. Visa plans to announce an expansion of Rightcliq in the coming months, with some analysts expecting an announcement this week.

Visa Inc. has begun enrolling what it calls early users into a payments, comparison and web browsing service called Rightcliq. The payment card network plans to announce an expansion of Rightcliq in the coming months, with some analysts expecting an announcement this week.

Visa has released few details about Rightcliq, but according to its terms of service and enrollment site, consumers can use Rightcliq to store card details and shipping addresses for online purchases at various merchants. That would make Rightcliq similar to the format offered by PayPal, the processing service owned by eBay Inc. that shoppers can use at multiple online retail sites.

Rightcliq also enables consumers to receive offers from various merchants-the enrollment pages show sample coupons from such retailers as Barnes&Noble.com;, Beauty.com and Acehardware.com-and collect and save product information from retail web sites.

“[Rightcliq] is an online shopping tool targeted to consumers that assists online shoppers by offering the ability to browse multiple merchants and select items consumers are interested in looking at in one central location, making comparison shopping easier,” Joseph Saunders, Visa’s chairman and CEO, said in October during an earnings conference call with analysts. He added that Rightcliq will include “auto-sell capabilities that instantly populate the consumer`s shipping and payment details for faster checkout, and exclusive offers for Visa cardholders and the ability to solicit feedback from friends on items the user is considering to buy.” A Visa spokesman declined to provide more details.

“Version 1.0 of Rightcliq by Visa is available today, and is currently being tested by early users,” the spokesman says. “Visa will be delivering updated versions of Rightcliq with more features over the coming months, incorporating feedback from those early users.”

Among sites saying they are testing the service is a web site called Hometheaterforum.com, a product review site for consumer electronics that offers links to such online retailers as BestBuy.com. On Wednesday, there was no readily available button for Rightcliq, only an enrollment-site link buried in a post from someone called Mediajunkie3 who appeared to be speaking for Visa. Immediate comment from Hometheaterforum.com was unavailable Wednesday.

If an announcement about Rightcliq comes this week, it is likely to happen tomorrow, when Visa has scheduled an Investor Day in San Francisco. Visa executives will talk about the company’s product initiatives, goals and financial health.

Rightcliq will try to take share from PayPal, which has 81 million active accounts, says a research note this week from Lazard Capital Markets. While most consumers pay online with credit and debit cards from brands like Visa and MasterCard, PayPal is the most used online alternative to paying with plastic. Visa faces significant obstacles in moving into this arena, including the risk of alienating merchants with a common check-out page, and the challenge of making Rightcliq as robust and efficient as PayPal, Lazard says. The firm also says that “neither Google nor Amazon has yet established meaningful market share positions with their respective payment services despite aggregating large audiences of users and offering cash incentives.”

Customers using Google Checkout or Checkout by Amazon store create an account with payment details-say, card information-to enable shopping with online retailers that accept the options.

Skepticism comes from other analysts, too. “I`m thinking this is just a shopping portal with a `click-to-pay-with-Visa` utility, which probably has some added security,” says Steve Mott, a payments consultant with BetterBuyDesign. “This would just appeal to consumers-it might be tied to rewards-but I can`t imagine Visa ever giving an online merchant a break on rates.”

Scot Wingo, CEO of ChannelAdvisor Corp., which helps online retailers sell through third-party sites, says that PayPal breaks even or loses money on credit card transactions. “That is effectively the chink in PayPal’s armor,” he says. Success could come to a competing service that has large consumer use, makes it cheaper for merchants to accept stored-balance transactions and generally works well with small- and medium-sized businesses, he says.

“It’s too early to tell if Visa is going to be a challenger,” he adds. “They can get the consumer usage piece, but working with SMBs and the stored-balance piece remain to be seen.”

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