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Excite searches for e-shoppers

Excite launches an Internet commerce initiative that includes a shopping channel, a guarantee against credit card fraud, and a certified merchant program.

Search engine firm Excite (XCIT) launched an Internet commerce initiative today that includes a shopping channel, a guarantee against credit card fraud, and a certified merchant program that identifies online merchants.

The program also opens new and diverse revenue sources for the company, such as transaction revenue sharing with merchants and collecting rent on its shopping channel.

Wall Street greet the news unenthusiastically; the stock traded at 22-1/8 at midday, off 13/16.

Excite has moved aggressively of late, announcing in July that it will be the first Internet search engine to offer free email, a move quickly copied by Yahoo (YHOO).

Search engines have been expanding into other areas to exploit their brand names and grab new revenue sources. In addition to its free email service, Yahoo also is pushing into e-commerce.

Under its "safe shopping guarantee," Excite will reimburse shoppers for any fraudulent use of their credit card resulting from transactions with a company-certified merchant. The guarantee--similar to one AT&T offers to credit card users who buy from AT&T-hosted merchants--covers any liability the credit card company doesn't pick up, which is usually $50.

Recent surveys confirm that buyers remain nervous about Internet security and using their credit cards online.

The Excite Shopping Channel is organized into 16 departments, ranging from autos, books, and computers to "Weird Stuff." Departments will recommend shopping sites and offer independent consumer guides, tools for comparison shopping, and shopping-oriented chat areas.

Like Yahoo, Excite also will integrate shopping features throughout its topical channels. Excite's shopping channel will offer 250 merchants that support transactions online and links to more than 1,000 other merchants and online shopping sites.

Among the 20-plus merchants Excite has certified so far are bookseller, Disney Store Online, J. Crew, auction site OnSale, Reader's Digest, software store, Tower Records, Wal-Mart Online, GolfWeb, greeting card company Greet Street, Hickory Farms, Internet Shopping Network, online print shop iPrint, NetGrocer, and Omaha Steaks.