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HolidayBuyer's Guide
Internet

Consumers get FreeRide on Net

A new Web site called will give people points toward free Internet access for grocery shopping and surfing product Web sites of big brands.

Consumers have more to gain than pounds this holiday season. A new Web site called FreeRide will give people points toward free Internet access for shopping and surfing product Web sites of name brands.

FreeRide, the creation of New York ad agency Mezzina, Brown, is similar to popular airline frequent-flier programs--rewarding consumers for time and money spent. FreeRide seems confident that its plan will work and is putting millions of dollars into the project.

The latest online marketing venture hopes to reach consumers through the national household brands they trust. But whether coupon-cutters are surfing the Web is a question raising the brows of some industry analysts.

Bill Doyle, senior analyst for Forrester Research, said the long-time surfers know where they?re going when they log on and probably won?t spend time cruising product sites or cutting up cookie boxes just to get a free ride.

"To the extent that the people who are online are trying to save time, not kill time, this could be dubious. The proof-of-purchase part strikes me as a crude process," he said.

With FreeRide, Internet users receive points for visiting product sites--such as Kodak, Clairol, and Johnson & Johnson--returning proofs of purchases for participating companies, making online purchases, and responding to surveys. The points are tabulated while consumers surf. When enough points are collected for free access, the user's Internet service provider is notified.

EarthLink and InfiNet are the two Internet access providers partnered with FreeRide for its launch on January 1. Consumers have to be signed up with participating ISPs to receive points.

But how many Oreos must be munched and how many hours must be spent browsing Nabisco's Web site to earn the approximately 1,000 points needed a month to surf for free?

According to FreeRide, not many. Spokesman Jordan Stanley said most users typically spend $19.95 a month for access, which equates to 40 FreeRide transactions per month. Since shopping counts as a transaction, he said points will rack up quick.

FreeRide pays consumers ISPs directly and receives a fee from marketers based on transactions.

Paying consumers for their time online with advertisers is not a new concept. A few companies such as Juno give customers free email, but enclose advertisers' banners with messages sent. But it's hard to tell if the strategy is successful: FreeMark, another free email service, folded this month.

Still, the company is banking on the affiliation with big brands, and the proof may be in the pudding. For 1997, FreeRide has budgeted $2.5 million to promote the new service, and has already preregistered 700,000 users.