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FedEx, Netscape sign e-commerce pact

The shipping company announces an e-commerce agreement with Netscape Communications for the creation of a "shipping portal."

Federal Express today announced an agreement to license Netscape Communications' software and information for a custom "shipping portal" in a deal that also includes enhanced visibility on Netscape's business-oriented Netcenter Web directory.

The multiyear, multimillion-dollar contract includes RPS, another FDX subsidiary that handles business-to-business ground shipments. It creates a new FedEx "delivery center" on Netcenter and is aimed at simplifying e-commerce transactions by offering streamlined shipping information and personalized package tracking. Those features also will be integrated with Netscape's future browsers.

However, the deal does not involve America Online's Web site or proprietary online service, and FedEx said on a conference call that no talks have been held directly with AOL, which last month completed its acquisition of Netscape.

"E-commerce is the catalyst behind this agreement," said Laurie Tucker, FedEx's senior vice president of electronic commerce.

The enhanced services target two markets--small-business users and the shipping departments of major companies that use on FedEx. The new FedEx shipping portal is aimed at corporate customers, while the Netcenter relationship goes after the small businesses.

In addition to the new delivery center service, Netcenter will make FedEx and RPS its default shipper for its online software store, allow MyNetscape users to include FedEx services on their customized start page, and let users print shipping labels directly from their personal address book hosted on Netcenter.

FedEx said the services will be launched "over the next couple of months," but declined to be more specific.

FedEx has been a longtime Netscape customer, noted Marty Kagan, Netscape's vice president of e-commerce, in part because former Netscape CEO James Barksdale was previously chief technology officer of FedEx.

FedEx archrival UPS pooh-poohed the FedEx announcement, saying it already offers similar services over the Net and has had portal deals dating back to 1997 and an AOL deal in 1995.

But UPS has not created a "shipping portal" like the FedEx's. Ross McCullough of UPS' e-commerce division also noted that being the default shipper for Netscape's software store may not be a long-term benefit as more software is delivered by download, not courier.

FedEx described the deal as simplifying access to its shipping services, saying that enhancing existing offerings can improve customers' expenses.

The deal did not involve Netscape's CommerceExpert line of e-commerce software that allows companies to set up Web storefronts and conduct procurement, billing, and payment online.

FedEx's stock hit a 52-week high of 103 earlier today. It closed at 102.875, up 3.4375.