Close on the heels of its announced alliance with Microsoft Corp. to smooth the way for bank card transactions over computer networks, Visa International is actively pursuing other initiatives in home shopping.
The bank card association announced late last month it would increase involvement with an interactive shopping service group, called 2Market Inc. The company, formerly known as Enpassant, conveys catalogues to consumers via a CD-ROM on-line service so that they may place orders by telephone, modem, or fax.
Although consumers have long been able to use their credit cards to purchase items from this service, Visa is increasing involvement as it seeks to inspire greater card usage along the electronic commerce route. It will promote its vacation rewards program through this medium - reaching out to the attractive, upscale market segment that tends to shop by computer.
"We think 2Market will be an effective way for Visa to reach today's progressive home shoppers," said Jan Soderstrom, senior vice president for Visa. "Using specialized services like 2Market ensures that Visa's promotional messages will rise above the standard advertising clutter."
Earlier in November, Visa had struck a partnership with Microsoft to provide data encryption security for account numbers to be transferred over public and private networks. In providing a safe way to transmit bank card numbers and other sensitive information over the Internet and similar computer networks, Visa hopes to elicit greater card usage electronically.
Both these arrangements facilitate a heightened interest in using credit cards to shop at home by personal computer, Visa officials said. And - although some bankers fear the potential might in this affiliation of Microsoft, the world's largest software company - Visa has contended that this and other forays into electronic commerce will only serve to benefit the banks by providing an expansive new delivery system and the opportunity to generate greater revenues.
Standard point of sale promotional materials have boosted card usage an estimated 20% to 25%, according to Ms. Soderstrom. She expects advertising with 2Market to better Visa's business at least that much, and to subtly reinvent the bank card association's image in the process.
"This area's going to grow tremendously, and it's the early adapters, the opinion leaders, who will be using this service first," she said. "Eventually we want to be perceived as beyond a credit card company, to include broader information services as well."
2Market is a private company founded by America Online, Apple Computer, and Medior Inc. Many mail order houses, retailers, and other companies are involved, including Hammacher Schlemmer, Land's End Direct Merchants, the Nature Company, the Sharper Image, Spiegel, and Time Warner Interactive.
Visa began its foray into marketing products via electronic media in September, when it became a charter advertiser on an interactive entertainment channel called GOtv.