The virtual credit card marketplace just got a little more crowded as Discover Financial Services Inc. came forward with another appeal to the consumer's competing desires for convenience and security.
Discover, the credit card unit of Morgan Stanley Dean Witter & Co., on Wednesday unveiled Discover DeskShop. Like the on-line initiatives of its card-issuer brethren, Discover's new offering makes use of digital-wallet technology. The difference is Discover's unique approach to branding, which involves an on-screen icon that follows users around as they browse the Web.
Discover DeskShop's debut follows Citigroup's introduction in October of a virtual MasterCard credit card called ClickCredit. American Express Co. made its entry the month before with the splashy - and by all accounts very successful - launch of the Blue card.
The Amex card's unique selling point is that it carries a chip and comes with a card reader that sits on the consumer's computer at home. While each company has taken a different approach, their campaigns are alike in reflecting the card industry's realization that standard credit cards are not going to cut it on the Internet.
"Plenty of people are willing to purchase on the Internet, but there are people who remain reluctant and there are people who find filling out a sales form too inconvenient," said David Robertson, president of The Nilson Report, an Oxnard, Calif.-based newsletter.
Discover customers who sign up for the product get a Discover icon that sits on their desktop, so when they browse on the Web they see the Discover logo wherever they go. When they are ready to purchase something, they click on the icon, which automatically completes all the information e-tailers require to authorize and process a card transaction.
"Rather than putting your credit card in your back pocket, DeskShop is like carrying it in front of you wherever you go," said David C. Stewart, a vice president at Global Concepts, a Norcross, Ga., payment systems consulting firm.
Trintech Group, a San Mateo, Calif.-based payments software company, is providing the technology for DeskShop and has also marketed it to banks through an agreement with MasterCard. But Trintech spokesman Richard Martin said Discover's "is the first card-centric application of this technology."
Citigroup's ClickCredit is seen as a temporary product meant to coax more people to shop on-line; Discover maintains that consumers want more convenience rather than security. The Citigroup product segregates on-line and off-line purchases.
"Our research shows that people are not looking for a separate line of credit or more accounts to manage," said Colleen Zambole, vice president of electronic commerce at Discover. "They want simplicity." The Citigroup product is a separate line of credit, whereas DeskShop is linked to the cardholder's Discover account. There are no separate billing or account numbers.
Initially, Discover is marketing DeskShop to the 1.1 million customers who have registered to have access to on-line account information.
"This extends the physical world card to the Internet," Trintech's Mr. Martin said.