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Surfing and shopping at the mall

Mall mega-developer Simon DeBartolo Group announces it will provide Internet access to millions of shoppers nationwide.

Mall mega-developer Simon DeBartolo Group today confirmed that it will provide Internet access to 28 million of its shoppers nationwide.

The company for the past year has quietly offered dial-up service at its Laguna Hills Mall in Southern California to test the system, which allows customers to use computers to shop locally, said Gary Eberhardt with Aim Smart, the company offering the dial-up service and free Internet access.

As reported yesterday by CNET's NEWS.COM, the company is expanding the program to hundreds of malls across the country, Eberhardt said. The DeBartolo family, which holds a minority stake in the Simon DeBartolo Group, owns the San Francisco 49ers.

The malls will offer their customers a complete package that includes a CD-ROM, released monthly with pictures of all the merchandise so that they don't have to spend time downloading pictures online; a local dial-up number; and a Microsoft Internet Explorer Web browser to view the Net, Eberhardt said.

"We are providing the total shopping system," he said.

The service combines Microsoft Internet Explorer 4.0 and Aim Smart's interactive multimedia technology. Simon will set up interactive kiosks in five malls during the first quarter of 1998, and plans to add about 100 more in the following 18 months.

While cyberspace is littered with malls, Eberhardt said some customers shy away from online shopping because they would rather deal with local companies that offer local service.

In this system, the customer buys merchandise from the local stores. The merchandise is then immediately delivered to its destination, he said.

Eberhardt said Aim Smart is partnering with Simon DeBartolo for the next four years but is also working with other mall developers to add the same service.

"If we take a look and see what the trends are in the industry, they're for more convenience and more service," he said. Smart Aim thought, "Perhaps we could make a combination of what was the Web and what was the malls and create a product that would be the best of both worlds."

Smart Aim will provide one dial-up line for every ten customers, he said. And for those worried that providing Internet access will prove too expensive, Eberhardt said the advertising revenue will more than offset the cost of the Internet access.

According to a Bloomberg news service report, the system will be provided to 32 million households. Simon DeBartolo will launch the program in five of its malls during the first quarter and add at least 100 more in the next 18 months, the report stated.

Eberhardt said the first malls will be in California and Maryland.

Internet News Editor Jeff Pelline contributed to this report.