AMERICA ONLINE IN VENTURE WITH UPSCALE ASHFORD.COM

Byline: Wendy Hessen

NEW YORK — America Online has entered into a two-year marketing alliance with the upscale jewelry and accessories e-commerce site, Ashford.com.
The deal gives Ashford prime-anchor tenant status and guarantees best positioning on the “jewelry & watches” and “accessories” shopping pages of AOL.com, Shop @AOL, Netscenter and CompuServe.
The four sites, which are either owned or operated by AOL Inc., combined reach is in excess of 50 million people, or 70 percent of all those surfing or shopping on the Internet.
The Ashford box officially begins appearing in all four locations today, although the Shop@AOL and AOL.com boxes went up Tuesday.
Ashford’s previous relationship with AOL had been limited to being listed as a link and the launch of a few banner ads the firm had begun placing in the last quarter, according to an AOL spokeswoman.
Neither firm would divulge the price of the agreement, except to characterize it as being in the multimillion-dollar range.
Industry sources said that the cost can easily reach that ballpark, depending on the prominence of the placement, length of the deal and other features.
The Ashford placement is akin to an anchor location in a major mall, according to Patrick Gates, vice president of e-commerce for AOL Inc.
“We think of [our shopping sites] as a mega-online mall.” said Gates. “We’ve gone from 16 departments similar to those in a store, to 54 now with more real estate, expanded offerings, improved visuals that offer more ways to see a product, better shopping tools and more brands.”
Gates said AOL has gone from about 150 of these partnership agreements last year and expects to reach 300 by the crucial holiday period.
Ashford is a potentially good match with AOL’s increasingly upscale consumer base, according to some recent research commissioned by AOL.
The firm’s shopping destinations are attracting more consumers interested in luxury goods, products and services, and the high-end market is considered a growth area for all of AOL’s brands. About 68 percent of users believe that it is worth paying more for quality merchandise.
The median household income of AOL members is $69,850, and CompuServe’s is $72,682, whereas the average household income of other online households is $48,189.
AOL users spent roughly $7 billion on jewelry and watches last year.
More than 10 million of AOL’s members are buying online, with as much as 30 percent of them shopping every month.