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Amway debuts online after rocky start

After a long stall this morning, the direct-sales company is launching its awaited direct-sales Web site.

After a rocky start, direct-sales company Amway today launched its awaited direct-sales Web site.

But even after the launch, which came late in the day after being delayed for several hours, the new site, called Quixtar, suffered from slow response times. Some users reported that they were unable to access pages or received "Page not found" errors.

Amway's struggles follow similar difficulties from other real-world retailers as they have prepared to offer services online. Last month, for example, Home Depot delayed plans to launch its e-commerce site until after the New Year. And Toys "R" Us canceled plans to create a Toysrus.com subsidiary in conjunction with Benchmark Capital.

Amway company spokesman Micheal Boyes said Quixtar was likely delayed because of some last-minute fixes. He also said that heavy interest in the site was causing site delays.

While the company had not indicated what time the site would launch, Amway had received calls today from many of its distributors, upset that they were unable to access the site, Boyes said.

Most companies debut new sites in the early morning hours, and apparently many Amway customers expected the site to already be up and running. Amway announced the site earlier this year, and even created a promotional site for it called Countdown9199.

"There's just a lot of anticipation," Boyes said. "Our sincerest apologies on the time [issue]. That raised expectations and that was a mistake." Boyes said that some 450,000 people had registered with the Countdown site since it launched in March.

Amway also laid out its e-commerce plans in March. Although the company has distributors worldwide, Quixtar will initially be limited to U.S. and Canadian consumers and distributors.

The new Quixtar site--which is owned by Amway's founders--works in three different ways. Consumers can purchase Amway and other products at retail prices directly through the site without paying a membership fee. Consumers and distributors can buy goods at a discount from Quixtar by paying a $19.95 membership fee. Amway distributors can set up their own businesses through Quixtar by paying a $99.95 membership fee.

Amway is one of several direct-sales companies facing the challenging issue of how to sell directly to consumers without upsetting their distributors, which have been the bedrock of sales. Tupperware, which launched its own e-commerce effort last month, attempted to achieve this balance by only offering a limited selection of products online.

Quixtar will contract a number of services from Amway, including programming, warehousing, distribution, and product development.