As the Internet continues to evolve, consumers are getting used to the fact that the Web no longer provides a free ride and are beginning to pay for a wide range of online content. To capitalize on this trend, AT&T has partnered with management consulting and technology services company Accenture, and launched a PrePaid Web Cents Service in April 2003. Through branded specialty cards, consumers now have an alternative way to purchase digital products online. Leading content providers such as Cellus USA, Disney Online, Shockwave.com, GameBlast, and Vindigo have already come on board with the service, and their own specialty cards have started showing up in participating retail outlets. It is anticipated that the cards will be available in 4,000 stores across the U.S., with many additional stores to be added in coming months.
"Millions of consumers want to purchase compelling online content, but don't because they don't have a credit card or are hesitant to use one for security or privacy reasons," says John Polumbo, president of AT&T Consumer. "We're solving that dilemma today by expanding the capability of the most robust pre-paid platform in communications to manage retail purchases of these leading companies' online digital content."
onsumers simply purchase cards in varying dollar amounts at participating stores that are activated at the point of sale. Next, they go online and log on to either the content provider's Web site directly or through the AT&T PrePaid Web Cents site where they are prompted to enter the serial number and PIN printed on the back of the card to begin purchasing content such as streaming audio and video, music, interactive games, cell phone ring tones, graphics, maps, guidebooks, software, and research services. The cards are supported by AT&T's PrePaid Web Cents technology; AT&T manages the retail supply chain including production, warehousing, inventory, fulfillment, and point-of-sale activations, as well as day-to-day management for vendor relationships and retail operations. Accenture provides its proprietary digital settlements solution to manage financial transactions between AT&T and the content providers.
Disney Online has cards for two of its Web sites: Disneyblast.com, a fee-based, advertising-free subscription service that provides kids with more than 100 online games and activities and Toontown.com, the first multiplayer 3D online game for kids and families.
Vindigo, a leading developer and publisher of consumer services for wireless phones and handheld devices, also has a new subscription card that allows users to access its Vindigo 2.0 service that provides local entertainment information including movie and restaurant reviews, show times, or bar locations as well as where to find ATMs, gas stations, parking garages, police stations, and public restrooms. "Vindigo 2.0 has long enjoyed enthusiastic word-of-mouth referrals, but until now, we had no way to reach people in stores," says Jason Devitt, Vindigo's CEO. "With this new subscription card, consumers will learn about Vindigo 2.0 when they buy their handheld device, enabling us to reach them at the crucial point-of-sale. AT&T PrePaid Web Cents Service is a great tool for online content providers to reach consumers in an offline environment."
While the cards can help Web sites boost that all-important "stickiness factor," the idea is not without its share of critics. Some ecommerce experts wonder if the cards will catch on because they are designed to work on only one site and currently there are only a few content providers. Others see it as a viable way to target the youth market that includes teens with disposable income and parents who want their children to have access to secure, controlled Web environments.