January 30, 2003, 12:00 AM

American Express beefs up its Blue card for e-commerce

American Express is beefing up its Blue cards with an IDKeeper feature that stores cardholders’ personal data as well as favorite web sites. AmEx, says the idea is to make online shopping easier as well as more secure.

In a move to make smart cards more relevant to U.S. consumers, American Express is beefing up its Blue cards with an IDKeeper feature that stores the cardholder’s personal data as well as favorite web site addresses. AmEx, with about 6 million Blue cards in circulation, says the idea is to make online shopping easier as well as more secure by keeping this information protected and easily accessible on the card’s computer chip. It’s offering free smart card readers to help the project along, but some analysts say the program may be more than consumers need or want.

The focus on shopping convenience marks an evolution in strategy for the Blue card, which was introduced in 1999 primarily as an answer to security concerns over e-commerce. The early expectation of the credit card industry was that smart card security would become a killer application that would become a major force in driving up e-commerce sales.

“That was an unrealistic standard,” an American Express spokesman says now. “What seems to be working more with smart cards are targeted applications that address specific kinds of needs.”

With IDKeeper, cardholders place their Blue card into a reader slot and then instantly see a list of their bookmarked web site addresses on their computer screen. And when they’re ready to purchase something, they can simply click on a “Form Filler” icon to automatically enter their personal information, such as password and shipping address. And because that personal data is kept on the card’s chip, it cannot be accessed by anyone but the cardholder.

AmEx is offering free Serial port readers that plug into a personal computer. For a fee, it’s also offering other versions of readers that can connect to additional types of computer devices, such as a PDA.

But some card experts say that there is little evidence of consumer demand for a system like IDKeeper. A survey conducted last year by Brittain Associates found that fewer than 1% of Blue cardholders used the card’s chip for securing online purchases. Aaron McPherson, an analyst with researchers IDC/Financial Insights, says the growth of IDKeeper may be hurt by the number of pieces a consumer needs to make it work. In addition to getting a smart reader that attaches to the consumer’s computer, the IDKeeper system requires cardholders to download software onto their computer as well as onto their Blue card itself.

Jim Accomando, a Fairfield, CT-based consultant to the credit card industry, says the American Express program doesn’t seem to take into account the fact that online shoppers conduct many of their purchases at work, where they are unlikely to ever have a smart card reader installed on their workstation desktop. “For those who shop mostly at home, and who don’t mind the effort to enter their personal data onto the card to save time for future online usage, this may be attractive,” he says.

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