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CompuServe shops for customers

In an effort to make some bucks, the flagging CompuServe network is opening up its Electronic Mall to the Net.

In an effort to make some bucks for a change, the flagging CompuServe (CSRV) network is opening up its Electronic Mall to the Net.

CompuServe's problems came to a head in November when the online service announced it would be killing its family-oriented service Wow. The company also said it would be refocusing on its primary mission--serving business the small and medium-sized business user. But four months later, the company has yet to make any major announcements on how it intends to capture that market. And last month CompuServe's CEO Robert Massey resigned.

CompuServe has garnered a few bits of positive attention through its strong position in the European market and its Super Bowl television commercial, in which it invited AOL users to move over to CompuServe. But on the whole, the company has been struggling to turn around its declining position in the market.

CompuServe will make money from the 65-store mall using three different models: charging rent for space, charging by the click-through, and charging a percentage of sales, said Gary Yeauger, senior business manager for merchandising and commerce.

Leading retailers currently in the mall include FTD, Hammacher Schlemmer, JCPenney, Federal Express, Computer Express, and Business Incorporating Guide.

"Taking our content to the Web is an important part of our overall strategy," Yeauger said.

Not only will it make CompuServe some money, but it also will serve as a good marketing tool, he said. "We're hoping that once other Netizens' get a taste of how CompuServe does things, they'll want to click on the navigational button to check out the rest of CS with a trial membership."

Yeauger says that in spite of the fact that there already are dozens--if not hundreds--of online malls, people would be drawn to CompuServe's site because of its name.

The online mall could only help CompuServe, said online analyst Peter Krasilovsky.

He says that CompuServe is in fact contemplating several options for charging people on the Web. "CompuServe's in trouble," he said. "This is CompuServe's best hope. It's a much smaller vision than what they had envisioned a couple of years ago."

Krasilovsky added that CompuServe could leverage its overseas strength in bringing in European customers.