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Amazon unwraps timed discounts

The company's new "Gold Box" feature offers customers deep discounts once a day on five products, giving them an hour to decide if they want to buy one.

Amazon.com is going the route of QVC or the Home Shopping Network.

The leading e-tailer has introduced a new feature called "Gold Box," which offers customers discounts once a day on a select group of products. As with the limited-time discounted offers on the cable shopping networks, after clicking on the Gold Box's treasure chest icon, Amazon customers have just one hour to decide if they want to buy one of five deeply discounted items. If they pass up the offer, their Gold Box won't be replenished with new items until 24 hours later.

Amazon has been testing the feature on and off since May with customers who have bought at least one item through the Web store, company spokeswoman Patty Smith said. The company is offering products in its non-media departments only, meaning that customers will not see any offers for best-selling books or the latest DVDs, she said.

"We're doing this because we think this is a cool way to introduce customers to the Amazon stores where they may not have previously shopped and to give them great savings on those five products," Smith said.

Over the last three years, Amazon has gradually expanded beyond its core products of books, music and videos to offer everything from kitchen products to new cars through its site. Last month, the company began testing a new service that allows catalog companies to display their products on its site and organized their offerings into eight new product categories, including pet toys and industrial supplies.

Amazon now offers eight broad classes of products and services and 42 different product categories, including its e-cards, wedding registries and the new catalog-related departments.

The company has consistently tested new features and services on its site, which frequently become permanent features. Last summer, the company tested out a free shipping offer for customers who ordered two or more books, CDs or videos. Earlier this year, the company made permanent a similar offer that it started during the holiday season last year, offering free shipping on orders of $99 or more.

Customers who click on their Gold Box are presented with offers for products that are priced lower than Amazon's typical discounted prices. The products are presented in succession, and a customer has two choices of buttons to push: "buy now" or "pass forever and see next offer."

As with QVC or the Home Shopping Network, customers aren't necessarily getting personalized offers. Instead, Amazon is grouping customers together based on what departments they've shopped from in the past and offering a random set of products to each grouping of customers, Smith said. Each person within a group would see the same offers, she said.

Among the products that were offered to one Amazon customer on Friday were a rechargeable Norelco shaver, a Bissell carpet cleaner and a Cuisinart 7-cup food processor.

The shaver has a list price of $258, although Amazon typically sells it for $159.99. Through the Gold Box offer, the customer could have gotten the shaver for $135.99, or $24 off Amazon's regular price. Likewise, the carpet cleaner and the food processor were marked down $70 and $51.60, respectively, from Amazon's regular prices.

Smith said she didn't know if Amazon was selling items below cost.

"I think they are compelling offers for customers," she said.

Smith also didn't know how much longer Amazon would test the feature or if the company would make it a permanent part of the site. Amazon typically doesn't comment on its future plans.

"We'll just have to evaluate the results and see," she said.