AOL Takes Big Step with Small Biz Service

This week Bigstep.com managed to land a multi-year alliance with America Online Inc. to provide its free
small-business site building services across all of America Online’s brands.

As if that weren’t enough, Bigstep.com can put 100,000 candles on its
birthday cake to commemorate signing up the same number of small businesses
to use its e-business building tools and services.

Bigtep.com has established an impressive array of alliances, in addition to
the AOL deal. Since the inauguration of its free e-commerce services,
Bigstep.com has landed promotional partnerships with the likes of Compaq Computer Corp.,
the Direct Marketing Association, McAfee.com Corp.
and Stamps.com, among others.

Many firms target the small businesses and Web entrepreneurs, but few have
delivered the value proposition that Bigstep.com manages to administer
around the clock.

Under the terms of the agreement with America Online, Bigstep.com’s free
Web-based store-building solutions, integrated e-commerce applications, and
marketing tools will be featured AOL’s branded small business channels.

The co-branded offering is designed for small businesses that require
dedicated e-business solutions. As part of the agreement, Bigstep.com and
America Online will work together to offer marketing, advertising and
distribution programs to help drive traffic to the service.

Andrew Beebe, Bigstep.com chief executive and co-founder, said aligning
with America Online has been a long-standing goal.

“Small businesses and entrepreneurs need solutions powerful enough, yet
easy to use, that allow them to extend their unique offerings online,”
Beebe said. “They also need alliances like this one to help bring them
distribution, marketing and placement. We believe that inking this deal is
more than just good news, it’s our job.”

America Online spent $4.2 billion to acquire Netscape Communications Corp. on
November 1998. Netscape has been an integral part of AOL’s small business
Web marketing initiatives.

Jim Martin, Netscape senior vice president and general manager, said the
agreement with Bigstep.com would help it provide small businesses with what
they need to thrive.”

“The small business market has huge potential, and we are committed to
working closely with best-of-breed companies like Bigstep.com to offer
tools and services for small businesses to tap this potential and succeed
online,” Martin said. “The deal underscores AOL’s commitment to focus our
efforts on this booming market and offer our users targeted services.”

Bigstep.com is a free, do-it-yourself, online service center where small
businesses can build a business Web site, communicate with customers,
market the site, accept credit cards, track visitors, and more.

Bigstep.com provide a well-rounded storefront package that charges no
hosting fees. But business owners must arrange for a merchant account
through Bigstep.com, even if it business already has one.

Accounts are established with Cardservice International, which
include opening a merchant account, real-time sales transaction processing,
and access to shipping and taxes calculators. The service costs $15 a month
plus 20 cents per transaction.

During setup and catalog building, Bigstep.com providers site-builders with
a simple to-do list that guides businesses through building their Web pages
by using a series of templates.

Unlike rival online catalogue firm iCat Commerce Online, a division
of Int

el Corp.,
Bigstep.com does provide back-office capabilities for inventory management
or accounting software integration.

Bigstep.com does provide a series of reports online so users can track
customer activity and routinely update shopping carts online. A Web-based
storefront produced by Bigstep.com isn’t elaborate, but the service is
unbeatable for ease of use and cost-efficient site production.

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