The public has shown little interest in digital wallets, but Wells Fargo & Co. says it has the right formula to win acceptance.
Wells, which has more online banking customers - 1.9 million - than any U.S. bank, is now offering them a free electronic wallet that will let them store information from a Wells credit card or others for online purchases.
In addition to keeping standard information such as shipping address, EasyOrder is meant to help users research products, compare prices, and record all their Web purchases. It can also index shopping sites and block unwanted e- mail from certain merchants. The enhanced features were designed by Brodia, the electronic wallet technology pioneer.
Theoretically, electronic wallets spare users the hassle of retyping personal information at each Web site they visit. But people have appeared indifferent to this advantage, perhaps since at many sites they can store information for return visits. That's just one of the frustrations nonbank credit card issuers such as MBNA Corp., Providian Financial Corp., and Capital One Financial Corp. have had in trying to popularize digital wallets.
Wells says its own name, more than EasyOrder's extra bells and whistles, will push the product.
"There's a huge trust issue" with new online products, said Cathy Graeber, senior vice president of consumer Internet services at Wells Fargo. "Having banks offer the service under their trusted brands, rather than a third-party player, makes a big difference."
Wells Fargo said one reason it has a better chance is that customers is because interaction between company and customer is more frequent in online banking.
"The difference between monoline credit card companies and us is we have really sticky applications," Ms. Graeber said. "Our customers are coming to us a few times a week, and they've said the more we can give them to do at our site, the more they'll come." Stimulating the site's traffic is one of Wells' main objectives with EasyOrder, it said.
Unlike some wallets, which are only registered with a select group of merchants, Brodia's can be used at any online store, Ms. Graeber said. Also, nonbank card issuers only allow their credit card to be used in the wallet, Wells Fargo said consumers can register any credit card they want.
Jeffrey Baxter, principal at S.J. Baxter & Associates in Forest Hill, Md., said he questions EasyOrder.
"There's a chance that it would make a consumer a little more loyal to Wells Fargo," he said, "but if they're going to fill it with competing card products, I'm not sure what advantage Wells will get from it. Once you've downloaded the wallet, there's no need to go back to the bank or monoline's Web site to actually use the wallet."