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FedEx builds new portal with Digital Cement

Federal Express quietly launches a new Web portal targeting small businesses, making it the latest company looking to drive new online business by building a Web portal.

Federal Express has quietly launched a new Web portal targeting small businesses, making it the latest company looking to drive new online business by building a Web portal.

"Basically FedEx has realized that they have to offer value-added content to their sites" to reach new markets, said David Ceolin, chief executive of Digital Cement, which built and is hosting the portal for FedEx.

The Small Business Center provides small businesses with management content, such as sales, financial and exporting information, and allows FedEx to directly market to participating small businesses online. Companies can link from FedEx's existing Web site to the new portal.

Although the site won't be officially unveiled until February, it was "soft-launched" in December, FedEx executives said.

"We wanted to get it up and running first before we publicly announced it," said Laurie O'Brien, a marketing specialist at FedEx. The site allows FedEx "to address our largest customer base, which is small businesses. We put the portal out there to give small businesses all the information they need to succeed."

The move by FedEx shows that companies are still willing to invest in Web portal strategies to build new businesses despite a slowdown in the Internet market as a whole.

"A lot of people originally thought they could just set up a portal and the world would come," said Kneko Burney, an analyst at Cahners In-Stat Group. "They found out that certain customers have certain needs and that it makes more sense to form a successful portal strategy based on those requirements."

Both Wells Fargo and Citibank have recently launched Web pages and services that closely resemble those made popular by portals. The pages offer everything from horoscopes and weather to financial tools for customers.

The FedEx site stays closer to the company's services, offering ways to customize shipping, advice on how to move a business online, and tips on how to expand a business overseas.

"This is considered a 'finally' move on their part," Burney said. "They have always had a large small-business market, and this is what FedEx needed" as part of its Internet strategy.