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FedEx to deliver e-commerce

The overnight mail giant jumps on the electronic commerce bandwagon with a software bundle to let companies sell merchandise on the Internet.

Federal Express (FDX) joined the stampede to the electronic commerce market by announcing a software bundle today that will let companies use the Internet for vending merchandise.

The BusinessLink software package will be given away for free starting next year with one catch: merchandise will be shipped via FedEx.

FedEx will charge a "modest" set up fee for work at customer sites and will charge per transaction as a result of BusinessLink usage, according to Laurie Tucker, FedEx's senior vice president of logistics for the electronic commerce and catalog division.

Industry observers say the overnight shipping giant is attempting to lock-in customers early. That way when Net commerce is more widely accepted, it will have a significant chunk of the market.

Federal Express's move, though surprising because of the company's origins in overnight mail, follows similar embraces of the burgeoning electronic commerce market by Oracle and AT&T.

FedEx will use a combination of fat pipes, Sun Microsystems servers, and Netscape Communications Commerce Server software to deliver "unparalleled" response time, Tucker said.

How will an overnight shipping company tackle electronic commerce? FedEx plans to provide businesses with the BusinessLink catalog creation software. Once products are entered into the system, the catalog will go online at the business's home page, with software links to a central FedEx server.

A customer will place an order--which is received by the central FedEx server housed behind a firewall--which will then be transmitted to the business for completion. The order is linked to a FedEx shipping number, meaning the company will transport the purchase from the company factory to the customer.

The BusinessLink software package has been in development for two years, according to Tucker. The FedEx executive said the company has always looked to leverage communications for competitive advantage and the company's wholehearted use of Internet and electronic commerce technology are the simply latest manifestations of that commitment.

FedEx sees no limits to the potential of electronic commerce, despite concerns about security. "There is no finish line," claimed Tucker.

BusinessLink is the first announcement in a new virtual enterprise suite of services strategy by FedEx that will also cover inventory management, invoicing, and customer service. BusinessLink is currently being used by select customers with general availability scheduled for early next year. More offerings will be announced over the next several months.