New options make e-shopping easier

Pickups at petrol stations, online credit and new delivery options are all being used to encourage online shoppers Firms are adopting new e-commerce payment and delivery practices in a bid to attract more customers, lower costs and improve service. Last week Amazon.

Pickups at petrol stations, online credit and new delivery options are all being used to encourage online shoppers

Firms are adopting new e-commerce payment and delivery practices in a bid to attract more customers, lower costs and improve service.

Last week Amazon.com said it would let customers use an online credit payment system as an alternative to orthodox credit and debit cards. The system will work much like a department store card. Amazon said customers would not be issued with a plastic card but would be sent a monthly bill.

Using current credit card payment systems, firms like Amazon pay a fee to payment processing companies such as Arcot, which act as a hub between merchant, consumer and bank to ensure financial transactions are carried out securely. Backers say the new schemes can save money through lower transaction fees and reduced administrative overheads.

Amazon.co.uk may eventually follow the US lead, but no decision has yet been made. A spokesman for the UK firm said, "At the moment, we have no plans to launch a similar scheme. Amazon.com and .co.uk are both autonomous so when one leads the other does not necessarily follow."

Separately, research company Datamonitor has recommended that companies should use petrol stations as pickup points for goods bought online.

The report said delivery still poses a problem for online retailers who want to make the most of a market that Datamonitor predicts will be worth $169bn by 2005.

Mike Phillips, oil analyst at Datamonitor, said petrol stations are ideally placed to satisfy this growing market. Using them as delivery points would create a "low-cost, simple and effective way of increasing footfall and capturing new revenues," he said.

A spokeswoman for Texaco in the UK said the company already has a deal with courier firm UPS in the Benelux countries where it offers this service. She added that the company has been offering the facility for business-to-business transactions since the beginning of the year, and may extend the service to consumers.

A Trading Standards Institute report earlier this year revealed that many customers are dissatisfied with the delivery services of online retailers, with 38 percent of online orders not arriving at the correct time and 17 percent failing to turn up at all. Commercial services are now being developed to improve the delivery of goods. The Post Office's Parcelforce service this year began offering an evening delivery service, and it is testing a service to allow pick-ups from local post offices.

Dynamid offers consumers a secure box on their doorstep that can be used to store goods until they are collected. Homeport offers a similar service in which retailers purchase boxes that are attached to each customer's house by a cable.