America Online Inc. is a few weeks away from taking the wraps off of an electronic wallet that it hopes will encourage its 13 million subscribers to do more virtual shopping.
AOL has been aiming to have the service out in time for the Christmas shopping season, and officials said last week that they are intent on getting it right from the start, without glitches.
Details are still sketchy. Wendy Brown, AOL vice president of electronic commerce, mentioned the wallet at an Electronic Funds Transfer Association conference two weeks ago in suburban Washington. She said it would fit into a strategy to take the hassle out of on-line purchases.
During the Internet World exposition in New York last week, Barry Schuler, president of AOL Interactive Services, revealed that the service would be dubbed Quick Checkout. "Our plan for the shopping season is to go slow," Mr. Schuler said. "It is very important for us to make it work."
Digital wallets have become a topic of banking industry conversation largely because of the credit card industry's Secure Electronic Transaction specification. Several technology vendors-most recently, International Business Machines Corp. with its Consumer Wallet-have obtained an official SET certification and seal of approval for software that on-line consumers would use to specify their method of payment.
In a broader sense, bankers are exploring how to deploy wallets in a way that would enhance their customers' loyalty and perhaps encourage them to use certain card accounts or brands. A major push by a company with AOL's marketing power could do much to raise awareness of the concept, industry observers have said.
AOL, which is based in Dulles, Va., has signed some merchants that it works closely with, such as 1-800-Flowers Inc. and Music Boulevard, plus several other retailers, including Godiva Chocolatier, Avon Products, and FAO Schwartz. "What we're trying to do in being a multibrand company now is to leverage what resources we have," Mr. Schuler said.
Officials said they want Quick Checkout to overcome obstacles to consumer purchases, including unwieldy sign-up procedures, poor search engines, slow merchant response times, and security of data.
A digital wallet typically asks for a customer's name, address, and one or more credit card numbers. The information is stored on a secure server and consumers are spared from having to re-key their information on future occasions.
The approach sounds close to that of "one-click shopping," which Cybercash Inc. has used in describing its wallet product.