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CitySearch goes local with commerce

The firm launches CitySearch Commerce, which offers local merchants e-commerce hosting, inventory management and order-processing.

If it were possible to send clothing over the Internet, Charles Conn would offer dry cleaning services on Ticketmaster Online-CitySearch.

The CEO of the combination city guides and online ticketing service wants to turn every local business listing on Ticketmaster Online-CitySearch into a place where visitors can not only browse but also spend money, with a piece of every transaction going to back to CitySearch.

Tomorrow, Ticketmaster Online-CitySearch will begin offering CitySearch Commerce, a group of e-commerce services for the local merchants whose sites it hosts. The services, which CitySearch developed with Intershop, include putting inventories online and taking orders. CyberSource will provide transaction processing.

The e-commerce services are part of an ambitious next step for Ticketmaster Online-CitySearch. Since the company was formed from the merger of the city guide and the ticketing agent last year, its strategy has been to drive transactions from its site rather than simply providing information.

On its Denver site, Ticketmaster Online-CitySearch has added ticket sales to the entertainment listings. That's the model of things to come, according to Conn, and eventually he'd like to enable users to do online banking, make appointments with their doctors and dentists, and reserve a tee time on the golf course.

"We want to help people get stuff done," Conn said.

Those kinds of capabilities are still a long way off. But Ticketmaster Online-CitySearch's main competitors, Microsoft's Sidewalk, America Online's Digital City, and Yahoo, have made little effort to penetrate the local advertising market beyond providing editorial content and listings for the arts, entertainment and shopping.

Microsoft has focused on content generated out of Redmond, according to Peter Krasilovsky, program director the Kelsey Group, an e-commerce research firm. "CitySearch has the deepest investment in local resources," he said.

With the e-commerce services, CitySearch hopes to increase its per-merchant sales. According to Krasilovsky, each CitySearch merchant site generates about $120 a month in revenue, and the e-commerce services could double that amount. In larger cities like New York, it could be even more.

Krasilovsky applauds CitySearch's move and said the company has streamlined its ability to update local merchant sites, but cautioned that providing full e-commerce functions is still a difficult and time-consuming task. Putting a store's inventory online and keeping it up-to-date is "part of the future more than today," he said.

In addition to the e-commerce services, Ticketmaster Online-CitySearch said it has expanded an agreement with American Express. American Express has been promoting Ticketmaster Online-CitySearch services among its merchants in a New York City pilot program and will begin providing the same offering in other cities as well.