In an attempt to nudge its significant merchant base to conduct secure transactions over the Internet, American Express Co. has teamed with Hewlett-Packard to bring ExpressVault, an end-to-end electronic commerce (EC) solution, to market.

The solution joins the marketing and financial expertise of Amex with the computing and security technologies of HP. It will be offered to Amex's merchant base through Internet service providers (ISPs) such as Mindspring Enterprises Inc. and EarthLink Network Inc. Merchants pay ISPs between $250 to $350 per month for the program.

Amex's major objective with ExpressVault is to help merchants generate more business on-line. "American Express is unique in that we own both sides of the transaction, both the merchant and card member sides," says American Express's John Galifi, director, electronic commerce. "That allows us to communicate to both (parties) simultaneously." In addition to "tickling" both sides of the transaction, Amex hopes that by selling software licenses to ISPs, it will spur adoption of EC technology by its merchants. "Our customers are looking to us to help provide solutions. What we've done by working with these different partners-acknowledging that we don't own all of the different components, but we certainly do know about payment processing-we're able to (join) all of the core competencies of these groups to create a turnkey solution," he says.

The ExpressVault program evolved out of Amex's work with Mercantec, a provider of retail electronic commerce software. Together, the companies developed a product that integrates Mercantec's SoftCart system, providing merchants a virtual shopping environment and on-line transaction engine, with Amex's point-of-sale (POS) software.

At that time, Mercantec was already working with Palo Alto, CA-based HP to integrate VirtualVault, HP's secure hosting system, into the SoftCart system and to ensure interoperability on all HP platforms, says Galifi, which lead to the ExpressVault collaboration. "We had two very unique offerings that, when put together, became a much stronger solution for our merchant base," he says. "We took our software solution with Mercantec, ExpressCommerce, onto the HP VirtualVault operating system, coming up with ExpressVault."

While the turnkey system is being resold through ISPs, it's also applicable to large-scale merchants with the hardware and software infrastructure to do their own hosting, Galifi adds. To date, 12 merchants are up and running with ExpressVault, including Hard Rock Hotels and Surfer magazine.


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