Several companies, including both MasterCard and Visa, have joined forces to raise European awareness of electronic commerce. They have created a holiday-shopping-oriented Web site,

At least 100 European merchants and businesses are participating in hopes of educating the shopping public about the Internet.

Co-sponsors with Visa International, and MasterCard International's Europay International affiliate are Hewlett-Packard Co., KPMG Peat Marwick, Microsoft Corp., United Parcel Service of America Inc.

"There is a wave of momentum building behind electronic commerce worldwide," said John Leftwich, marketing vice president for Microsoft Europe. "The goal of e-Christmas is to make sure European businesses don't miss the wave and get left behind by their competitors."

Davis Fields, project manager for Hewlett-Packard, said each of the vendors involved "believes there will be business opportunities down the road if e-commerce happens in Europe."

Christmas gifts are the main offerings on the World Wide Web site. All the merchants accept Visa and Eurocard-MasterCard, and nearly all use either the Secure Sockets Layer or Secure Electronic Transaction encryption protocol to safeguard transactions.

European companies generally have emphasized Internet strategies less than their U.S. counterparts, according to a study by International Data Corp. The European Commission recently issued a report encouraging member countries and businesses to address the shortfall.

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