Visa U.S.A. has teamed up with Be Free Inc. to help set up merchant storefronts on banking Web sites.
Through a "Visa partners network," member banks will be able to trade Internet "real estate" for a percentage of merchant sales generated from the bank's on-line customers.
"Part of our strategy to help our banks become more profitable is to 'mainstream' e-commerce," said James Degracia, senior vice president of electronic commerce at Visa. "To do that, we want to drive volume and provide members with the tools to build revenue."
Details of the agreement between Visa and Be Free were not disclosed, but the companies said it involves revenue sharing.
As participants in the partners network, banks would typically receive a 5% to 15% cut of every purchase generated from their sites, depending on the type of merchant. In some cases, the commission could go as high as 20%, Mr. Degracia said.
Different merchants and storefront designs will be chosen for each bank, depending on such factors as the bank's target market or geographical location. Merchants can customize their offers for different banks and change them throughout the week or month.
Be Free, a Marlborough, Mass., start-up, said its technology helps merchants develop "affiliate sales channels." On one of Cable News Network's on-line sites, for example, consumers can shop at barnesandnoble.com, Staples.com, and the Flower Club through links using Be Free technology, the company said. The virtual mini-mall is called Shop CNN.
Last week, Be Free filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission for an initial public offering.
Gordon Hoffstein, president and chief executive officer of Be Free, said, "Our new relationship with Visa is further evidence that affiliate programs provide excellent solutions for on-line merchandising."
A test is to begin this fall, though initial partners and other details have yet to be worked out.
Mr. Degracia said merchants in the Visa partners network can expect a much greater response than they would get from simply placing banner ads on various Web sites.
"We're really partnering banks and merchants together through a common network so that, every time you go to that bank site, the merchant will know that they'll always be there," Mr. Degracia said. "It's much more of an in-depth partnership."
Be Free's technology lets merchants keep track of how many people click on their offers and make purchases from the affiliate sites, so they can change ad locations or messages to make them more effective.
"Rather than just throwing offers out, you want effectiveness research," Mr. Hoffstein said. "We provide data to merchants on the responses to their offer."
One industry observer said such programs will be successful only if merchants can be brought together with prospects in a targeted way.
"People don't go to a bank's Web site with the intention of shopping," said Jeffrey Baxter, a principal at S.J. Baxter & Associates in Forest Hill, Md. "People would only respond to offers through a program like this on impulse."