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Open Market plans coupon craze

The next version of Internet commerce software Transact includes digital coupon technology to link to Web storefronts.

The next version of Internet commerce software vendor Open Market's (OMKT) flagship Transact software, due next week, is designed to create a coupon craze on the Internet.

Digital coupons, part of Transact's parcel of SecureLink Commerce Objects, can be included not only on Web sites but also in email, CD-ROMs, and even documents generated by word processing programs.

"Couponing allows companies to use the same kinds of promotional programs used in the real world to drive commerce on the Internet," said Open Market's Jeff Bussgang, director of Transact product management.

By clicking on a digital coupon, a user browsing the Web will be taken directly to the transaction processing section of a Web merchant's site to make purchases. "The impulse purchase can be immediate. You see an offer or special promotion and you're ready to buy, with no interim steps to distract [you]," Bussgang said.

Open Market's digital coupons, designed to draw buyers to Web storefronts, will work much as coupons do in the physical world, making it easier for retailers with physical stores and direct marketers to use them in electronic media.

The company also named PointCast as a new customer. PointCast described its licensing of Open Market's software as "a first step" toward adding for-pay subscription services later this year.

"Businesses are finding their customers interact with channel partners, marketing partners, distributors, advertisers, communities of interest, and they want to interact with customers at all these points of contact," said Bussgang.

SecureLink Commerce Objects, which require no custom coding, can be embedded in any medium that supports HTML or HTTP protocols, including Microsoft Word documents. In addition to electronic coupons, Open Market also will add the ability to do "digital queries" to its software, which give customers the ability to pull demographic or other data on particular customers from a variety of distributed databases.

Open Market digital coupons can be placed in ad banners as a way to draw potential buyers and to encourage impulse buys. Digital coupons also can be used to reward regular customers by offering discounts on future purchases, or as incentives for visitors to Web sites to register and identify themselves.

Manufacturers also could use the coupons to drive traffic to their online distributors by broadcasting them using "push" technologies.

The new features will be added in release 3.0 of Transact, scheduled for release in August. Initially the software will be available on Sun's Solaris operating system, but by year's end it will be available on Unix platforms of Hewlett-Packard, Stratis, and Silicon Graphics.

Open Market also is changing its pricing structure for its software. Standalone Web sites will pay $125,000, down from $250,000, while customers that host multiple storefronts will pay the old $250,000 price, plus a per-store fee.