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France's Top Online Merchant Sees E-C Matching Minitel

France's top-selling online merchant, the discount travel agency Dégriftour said that its total online business volume in June equaled the Minitel volume for the first time ever.

"The threshold of 50 percent of business volume over the Internet was crossed for the first time in June and maintained in July," said Pierre Alzon, Dégriftour's general manager.

The Minitel, France's closed-loop teletext system, tallied 2.3 billion euros (U.S. $2.2 billion) in total sales volume during 1998, compared to only 457 million euros (U.S. $439.5 million) for the Internet, according to a recent study.

Dégriftour, which opened as a Minitel outlet in 1991 and added its first Web sites in 1996, sells exclusively online. The shift in its business-volume breakdown is evidence that the Minitel's domination of French online sales is waning.

The company forecasts that Internet operations will continue to gain, contributing 48 percent of the FF580 million (US$ 93.5 million) in overall business volume it expects for this calendar year. By comparison, the company said the Internet accounted for only 18 percent of its FF432m (US$69.7 million) in overall business volume for the fiscal year ending March 31, 1998.

Dégriftour's sites are among the most popular French-language Web addresses, offering up to 40 percent discounts on airline tickets and vacation packages, and giving travel news and advice. During the 12 months ending July 31, the company sold 40,000 airline tickets and 160,000 vacation packages, including both Minitel and online sales.

The company reported 12 million viewed pages per month on average, peaking at a French-record 20 million in July. Visits to its Minitel sites range from 12,000 and 50,000 per day.

The French-language travel site l'echotouristique reported Friday that Dégriftour planned to spend FF18-20 million (U.S.$2.95 million to U.S.$ 3.3 million) over the next two years to expand into Belgium, Switzerland, Italy, Germany, Britain and Spain.