STYLECLICK INKS DEAL WITH ABOUT

Byline: Katherine Bowers

LOS ANGELES — Styleclick Inc. wants to leverage the cachet of individual experts — coupled with the buying clout and back-end fulfillment power of parent company USA Networks — to populate the Net’s numerous content and community sites with cyberstores.
With that strategy in mind, Styleclick, an e-commerce enabler with headquarters here, said Monday it has inked a three-year deal with New York-based About Inc., calling for Styleclick to become the exclusive provider of branded e-tail goods and services for Internet portal at About.com. About.com — which employs guides who create content on a wide variety of subjects — is the Web’s seventh-busiest site, in terms of customer traffic, according to Media Metrix, the Internet ratings agency. Media Metrix reported About.com had 19.8 million unique visitors in August. By comparison, the ‘Net’s leading site that month, AOL.com pulled 62 million.
Under terms of the deal, Styleclick will also offer ready-made online stores to the two million Web masters that use free hosting services offered by the About Web Services Division to mount small e-businesses and personal Web pages. Financial terms of the arrangement were not disclosed.
The deal marks the first time About.com has established a significant e-commerce component on its site, noted John Caplan, president of the Networks Group at About.com. “[Styleclick] was the most effective partner prepared to handle the kind of volume a Web site our size will do and the breadth of service we want to offer our [communities,]” Caplan said of the new partnership.
Bruce Goldstein, an executive vice president at Styleclick, said the e-commerce component will be integrated into About.com during the first quarter of 2001. About Inc., which beat earning expectations for the third quarter 2000, is expecting to be profitable by then.
According to Goldstein, commerce may be offered at About.com in a variety of ways, including links that pull up fully merchandised product pages, as well as pictures of products that are embedded into articles and would carry users who click on those images to a checkout area.
One key to the e-commerce venture’s success will be to maintain the editorial integrity of About.com’s shopping guides, so that visitors believe they can still trust the site’s content.
“There will be a lot of contextual merchandising, but we will be very careful to respect the church-and-state separation,” Goldstein said in referring to maintaining the independence of the site’s content from any related product in the assortment. “So long as we don’t cross the line, we won’t [damage] the credibility of the guides and experts.”
According to Goldstein, individual Web masters using Styleclick’s services to build their own virtual stores will have a choice between merchandising those destinations by selecting items from Styleclick’s database — which comprises 90 categories such as apparel, jewelry, home goods, and electronics — or downloading a ready-made store that would be merchandised and maintained by Styleclick.
A Web master that has launched a site about sailing, for example, could choose to download an outdoor apparel store created by Styleclick, or could hand select nautical-themed apparel and gifts. Particularly significant, Goldstein pointed out, is that sales are transacted without making the customer leave the individual Web master’s site. “We close the sale right on the site, rather than having a link back to another site and risking losing that set of eyeballs that is so key to small Web masters,” he said.
Goldstein added that the Web masters who choose to have a shop on their site will receive a sales commission ranging from 5-12 percent, depending on the type of product. He estimated there would be a 10 percent commission on apparel sales. And, he said, Styleclick expects the Web masters to shop their own site — in essence, using commission as a discount.
“If you do the math, there are two million Web masters and if each sold half an item a year, at a $50 price point, that’s $25 per Web master. Suddenly that’s a $50 million a year business.”

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