December 26, 2000, 9:55 AM

AmEx customers see red over Blue

The forecast for the American Express Blue card is looking partly cloudy. The company told thousands who were approved for Blue after Oct. 20 to expect their cards in three weeks-just in time for holiday shopping. But three months later, some are still waiting.

An AmEx spokesperson confirmed that high demand for the card’s 0% introductory interest rate caused the backup, but she says most consumers who experienced delays beyond three weeks received their cards within six to eight weeks-still too late for holiday shopping.

Oberthur Card Systems, the manufacturer of Blue, insists it has kept up with demand, delivering the cards stamped and loaded with customer information to AmEx according to its schedule.

AmEx officials won’t say how many cards have been applied for, issued and delivered, nor would they discuss the card’s transaction volume. Blue’s contractors are mum, too. Card analysts say they’re being kept in the dark. “From the beginning AmEx hasn’t said a whole lot,” says Karen Hoffman, a senior analyst who follows the card at the Gartner Group, Stamford, Conn. “But they have a lot of money and potential in this program.”

According to various estimates, AmEx has spent about $40 million to market the card, which carries a chip containing a digital wallet and other security features.

To use the chip’s technology, cardholders must order a reader from AmEx at no cost through March 31. After that, the charge is $25 for the readers, which require additional software and plug into a PC serial port. Readers for Macintosh com-puters aren’t yet available, forcing Apple customers to use the card without the added security. AmEx says it will supply them soon.

“Getting consumers to use the chip card function is the big question,” says Hoffman. “Is the extra cost to manufacture the cards going to be justified? These cards cost several times more than what a magnetic stripe card costs.”

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