Wells Fargo & Co., further bolstering its effort to develop online resources for small businesses, said it will introduce in December a service to help small companies build stores, sell products, and take payments online.
The Internet service, which Wells is developing with B3 Corp. of Burbank, Calif., will add to the online banking, electronic procurement, and other services the San Francisco banking company offers on its small-business Web site. Merchants with up to $10 million of annual revenue are to be offered almost instant approvals to build online stores and accept electronic payments.
The partnership with B3 is intended to mirror one formed in March between Wells' wholesale group and NetSales Inc. of Overland Park, Kan. The NetSales software underpins a similar service for businesses with revenues of $10 million to $250 million.
Wells says it has 1.2 million small-business customers, 70,000 of which do their banking online.
Wells' push into small-business Internet services, said Michelle Banaugh, senior vice president of Wells' Internet services group, is partly the result of a survey it did this year of its small-business customers who were not yet selling on the Internet. Fifty-four percent said they expected to set up stores on the Web and make sales over the Internet, and 71% responded that they thought Wells would be the right partner for this effort, Ms. Banaugh said.
Wells considered several vendors before deciding to work with B3, she said, but chose the company because its software lets small-business customers set up many aspects of the online stores themselves. Wells will offer help to merchants inexperienced in Web sales.
B3, whose customers include Bank of America Corp. and several Time Warner Inc. companies, will build and manage the online stores for Wells Fargo, Ms. Banaugh said. Wells will manage credit card processing, electronic check transactions, and fraud claims.
B3 was founded in 1996 as Entertainment Media Services Inc., a division of Warner Music Group Inc., for which it developed an Internet order system. It changed its name to B3 this May and remains part of Warner Music, which is owned by Time Warner Inc.
Bank of America Corp. uses B3 to support merchant services on its BAmart.com site for small businesses.
David J. Archambault, president and chief executive officer of B3, said Wells' implementation will differ from Bank of America's. "There is a different level of integration for Wells. The store builder and shopping cart are tightly integrated with the payment system, and that is pretty unique," he said.
Until recently, many online stores were custom-built. "It wasn't easy to find a payment system or to have an in-built catalogue system," Mr. Archambault said. Now, he said, "banks can act as trusted providers," helping customers create customized stores and providing payment services.