Lycos opens door to small businesses

Small business programme is Lycos' latest move to take hassle out of e-commerce.

Lycos announced a new programme Wednesday that offers small businesses the opportunity to set up shop online at the portal site.

The programme, which uses software from Open Market, is part of a larger plan the company has to launch a new shopping destination this fall. The shopping site will let consumers browse the sites of small merchants, auctioneers, and major merchant partners, and take advantage of features such as a common shopping basket, common registration, and a rewards programme.

"This is really taking what has been a series of disjointed activities and putting them into one tight programme," said Cory Eaves, director of electronic commerce products at Lycos.

The small-business service is meant to provide merchants with everything from site building to hosting to credit card transactions. The service will cost $99 per month plus a percentage of sales. But Lycos will waive fees until the formal launch of the shopping destination, Eaves said.

Portal sites have been anxious to make their marks in e-commerce, and most have extensive shopping areas where they allow consumers to access merchants, as well as tools and services.

But the question of how tightly to integrate the sites with the portal has been a sticky one. For instance, while a common shopping basket, which lets consumers place orders from multiple stores at one time, may seem like an innocuous feature, some merchants have balked at a third party getting between them and their customers.

But other features -- such as common registration -- have a broader appeal.

Microsoft's recently launched Passport feature is designed to let consumers fill out their name, address and other personal data one time. When users want to buy something at a participating Passport site, they enter their name and password to complete the purchase. The feature will also let users store multiple sets of data for different credit cards or shipping addresses.

America Online recently revamped its shopping sections, adding a similar feature, Quick Checkout. The company first introduced it for stores within the AOL framework, but plans to expand it to Web-based stores.