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AT&T lures customers to Net

Banking on its well-known brand name, AT&T unveils an incentive-laden set of guarantees and new services designed to entice both merchants and consumers in AT&T's huge customer base to Internet commerce.

AT&T (T), banking on its well-known brand name, today unveiled an incentive-laden set of guarantees and new services designed to lure both merchants and consumers in AT&T's huge customer base to Internet commerce.

"We are expanding our reputation for network reliability and safety to the Internet," AT&T Chairman Robert Allen told a news conference today which outlined the giant phone carrier's Internet commerce strategy.

For Web shoppers, AT&T will guarantee secure credit card transactions through its free SecureBuyer Service, extending its offer?to cover the $50 deductible fee if an unauthorized user charges a purchase to a customer's card?that is already available to users of its dial-up WorldNet Internet access service.

For merchants, AT&T will offer credit card transactions for the first time. Retailers who use AT&T's hosting service, Easy World Wide Web (EW3), get a guarantee of up to $595 that AT&T won't lose an online order. AT&T also will promise Web-site hosting customers that their sites will always be open. If not, they'll get a month's free service.

Other offerings include a turnkey service for businesses to design, build and maintain Web sites; a marketing program to attract Web surfers; and full secure transaction capabilities.

In the last year, AT&T has aggressively hooked more than 425,000 consumers to the Net through its WorldNet service, making it the number-two U.S. ISP. But its offerings to businesses have lagged.

"The integration of services coupled with ATT's desire to provide one-stop shopping throughout the continuum of electronic commerce bodes well," Vic Wheatman, an analyst with the Gartner Group, said of AT&T's offerings.

Through its new Web Marketing Solution, AT&T will offer a turnkey set of services for companies to set up a full-featured electronic business on the Net: hosting, advertising, Internet access for customers, and customer support. AT&T now hosts 900 Web sites, including Disney.Com.

Under the new program, merchants will get WorldNet access software to distribute to their customers, a free listing in AT&T's Toll-Free Internet Directory, and two free Internet ads for a month, one on AT&T's WorldNet site and the other on some of the 60-plus sites within the DoubleClick Network.

AT&T's SecureBuy service, due to launch November 15, has incentives for both businesses and consumers. Merchants who sign up by January 31 pay $395 a month and get 500 free transactions processes every month for a year. The merchant service includes catalog creation tools, order processing and fulfillment, credit card authorization and settlements, and reports and customer service.

To entice consumers to use for the free service, AT&T is offering 100 free minutes of long-distance calls for a $25 online purchase with a merchant hosted by the SecureBuy program.

AT&T also will offer a feature that allows a Web surfer to click on an icon on a Web site and be automatically connected to a toll-free 800 number to talk to a customer service agent.