The Customer Information

By John J. Sviokla, CIO |  Business

To date, Net merchants will not allow you to take your information with you. You
can ask Amazon.com for a list of what you have bought, but it is in such a cumbersome
form as to be useless. The result is that each time a consumer wants customization, he
or she must teach the merchant by indicating each individual preference. Some sites
have begun to pay people for their participation, but customers must continually
reenter the data and demonstrate their preferences through interaction with each site,
rather than simply being able to box up that information once and ship it to different
sites when needed.

And how many times do customers need to prove that they are worthy of a good credit
rating? On eBay's Web site (www.
ebay.com
),
for example, other buyers and sellers rate your reliability and
quality as a buyer and seller. Do you pay on time? Do you represent your goods and
services correctly? Reputation is obviously very important in that online community.
However, there is no way to take your good reputation with you to other auction sites.

Laying the Groundwork

New entrants to the market are just beginning to solve this problem. Startup company
PrivaSeek Inc. of Broomfield, Colo., lets you register once and then determine how
much of your data you want to share with the different Web sites that have signed up to
participate in the program. Customers have "Personas," which are kept at PrivaSeek's
Web site ( href="http://www.privaseek.com/">www.privaseek.com). Then, when they visit a
participating commerce site, they push one button to fill in the information needed by
the site. This is the first step in giving control to customers.

The natural next step is giving customers control over their buying power. A San
Mateo, Calif., startup, NexTag.com, allows users to register and then negotiate with
sellers for the best price. When you go to the site, you get a list of suppliers that
are willing to sell you the item and their prices for it. You then state your price,
and the sellers get the chance to meet it -- either in real-time or via e-mail. The
site keeps track of your buying behavior and displays it when you begin negotiating. If
a seller meets your price and you accept, your "reputation" (a numerical rating)
improves -- perhaps leading to lower prices the next time you negotiate. In this
process, you're profiting from your own buying profile.

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