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UPS wraps deal with search firms

Internet World The world's largest delivery firm will put a button on three major search engines for package tracking.

Internet World LOS ANGELES--UPS, the world's largest package delivery firm, will put a button on three major Internet search engines--Infoseek (SEEK), Lycos (LCOS), and Yahoo (YHOO)--so that customers can track their packages.

Both UPS and the search sites declined to disclose how much UPS is paying for the privilege.

The deals, apparently the first time a company of UPS's heft ($22.4 billion in 1996 revenues) has paid to put such information on another firm's Web site, reflect a broad strategy to escalate the privately held delivery company's Net presence.

But some of its online initiatives have raised security questions. Earlier this year, UPS touted its ability to put electronic copies of handwritten signatures online, leading to concerns that the signatures might be obtained by others and used fraudulently. (See related story)

Although the search engine deals do not specifically involve digital signatures, they will expose the company to an estimated 13 million hits a day.

In addition to tracking packages, starting today Infoseek, Lycos, and Yahoo users can locate UPS package drop-off centers and download UPS OnLine Tracking software. UPS, which gets nearly 2 million hits per week, expects 340,000 weekly requests from the three sites.

"The common approach to Web marketing has been to drive traffic to your site," said Mark Rhoney, UPS director of strategic marketing. "UPS has established a new approach. This is a unique opportunity to bring UPS closer to our customers."

Rhoney called the search engine deals "a key component of our electronic commerce strategy." Added chief UPS publicist Ken Sternad: "We are very much on the verge of what can be done in electronic commerce."

Conversely, the three search engines are seeking to broaden their offerings to become more of a "destination" for Internet users by adding news services, maps, stock quotes, sports scores, and region-specific sites.

That effort is driven financially by the free services' desire to boost their ad revenues. Search engines charge among the lowest rates for ad banners because advertisers figure users don't stay long on search sites.

The UPS deals could touch off a new wave of corporate sponsorships on ad-supported Web sites, particularly for publicly traded publishers that rely on Internet ad dollars to please Wall Street.

Still, Sternad doesn't think other marketers will copy UPS, although its search engine deals give it exclusive rights only in regard to other package delivery firms. "There are not too many entities that deserve a place on those sites," he said.

Employee-owned UPS delivered 3.1 billion packages last year and has 335,000 employees worldwide.