By  on August 16, 2007

WASHINGTON — Online retail executives and the nation's largest brands plan to take a distinctive voice to Capitol Hill on a range of e-commerce issues affecting their burgeoning businesses when Congress returns next month.

The board of Shop.org, which counts more than 600 members, including walmart.com, Target Corp., J.C. Penney Co. Inc., Macy's Inc. and Sears Holdings Corp., voted July 18 to expand the scope of the association's activities to include more focused lobbying efforts for online retailers and the development of industry standards and benchmarks.

Shop.org was formed in 1996 and acquired by the National Retail Federation in 2001.

"The online retail industry needs a strong voice in the policy arena to match its growing economic force," Scott Silverman, executive director of Shop.org, said in a statement. "Conversations about online retailers are happening on Capitol Hill and it is time that Shop.org became a part of them."

According to Forrester Research, which conducted a study for Shop.org, online sales are expected to increase 18 percent to $259.2 billion this year, compared with sales of $219.9 billion in 2006.

As part of the initiative, Shop.org is creating a policy advisory group made up of a dozen online retail executives to identify problems and provide guidance in lobbying efforts.

"Shop.org will add credibility to advocacy on online issues," Elizabeth Oesterle, vice president and government relations counsel at the NRF, said in an interview.

Oesterle said she was often restrained in lobbying specifically on online retail issues for the NRF because Shop.org was not in the policy arena.

But the new direction will give NRF lobbyists more tools when discussing issues with legislators on Capitol Hill and open the door for online retail executives to testify at Congressional hearings on matters that could affect their businesses.

Oesterle outlined three primary legislative focus areas for online retailers when Congress returns from its August recess. They include legislation intended to combat "spyware," which is unwanted downloaded software that often takes over a consumer's computer and tracks activity. While the organization has supported legislation to combat spyware, online retailers are concerned the bill would require affirmative consent, or an opt-in, by consumers in order for retailers to collect personal information on Web sites they visit, according to an NRF spokeswoman.Lobbyists will also focus on a patent reform bill that online retailers hope will provide some relief to industries that have been subject to aggressive "patent trolls," where companies try to enforce their patents in a manner considered unduly aggressive or opportunistic, as well as pushing for Congressional scrutiny of interchange fees that credit card companies charge retailers when consumers use cards to make a purchase.

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