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Net Prophet - by Dylan Tweney

February 8, 1999

Smart Frog will help get Internet shopping sales really jumping

As I wrote last week, shopping on the Web is generally confusing, slow, inconvenient, and frustrating.

Now a start-up called Smart Frog wants to assuage your pain by giving you a rebate for the purchases you make online.

It's an interesting proposition because it costs nothing and effectively decreases by 5 percent the amount you pay for goods bought online. It should be even more interesting if you're an online marketer, because Smart Frog is delivering not just customers, but actual sales to your site.

Smart Frog is the brainchild of former Trilogy employees Scott Lenet and Peter Bauert. Although their site officially launches February 8, it has been running a pilot program for the past two months and is already collecting revenue, Lenet told me.

Much like credit card rebate and airline frequent-flyer programs, Smart Frog gives you points in exchange for the purchases you make at certain online stores such as Amazon.com, eToys, Beyond.com, and Computer Literacy. You get 5 cents in "Frog Dollars" for each dollar you spend at these stores. Twice a year, Smart Frog will send you a check for the amount accumulated in your account.

Smart Frog gets the money for its rebates from the merchants themselves, who pay Smart Frog commissions for sales made through the Smart Frog site. Smart Frog returns 5 percent to the consumer, and pockets the difference.

As it learns more about each customer's purchasing habits, Smart Frog will drive more business to its merchants by offering customers special deals targeted to their interests. Lenet says he has no plans to sell advertising on Smart Frog or share customers' information with third parties.

Why the odd name? Lenet said his favorite animal is the hippopotamus, but I guess "www.smarthippo.com" just didn't have the same ring to it.

Other incentive programs abound on the Internet. Perhaps the most well-known of these is CyberGold (www.cybergold.com), which gives you cash in exchange for the attention you give to certain online ads.

Because attention on the Web is in such short supply relative to the number of pages competing for it, there's a lot of hype about the Web's "attention economy," in which eyeballs count for more than revenues, and stock market capitalizations more than assets.

But attention is valuable to a company only if it leads to a purchase. That's why Smart Frog is cutting to the chase, providing incentives not for attention, but for actual purchases.

The system worked well enough in my tests. Through Smart Frog, I went to Amazon.com, which was framed by a Smart Frog panel. After I bought the box set of the complete Smithsonian Folkways recordings of blues banjo legend Dock Boggs, I copied the purchase information to a Smart Frog form and was credited 65 cents in Frog Dollars.

Smart Frog also credits its members $1 for each person they refer to the service. That's why I encourage you to visit www.smartfrog.com, sign up, and tell them that dylan@infoworld.com sent you.

I'll donate all of my Smart Frog dollars to the Odyssey project (www.worldtrek.org), a nonprofit organization that lets kids explore the world through the eyes and digital cameras of a team of adult travelers. These travelers will spend the next two years studying indigenous cultures in Latin America, Africa, and Asia, giving schoolchildren with Internet access a chance to learn more about the offline world all around them. Write to me at dylan@infoworld.com.

Dylan Tweney (dylan@infoworld.com) has been covering the Internet since 1993. He edits InfoWorld's intranet and Internet-commerce product reviews.

Previous columns by Dylan Tweney

Online service woes dog vendor sites and hinder Internet sales
February 1, 1999

Display technologies will change the way we look at the Web
January 25, 1999

Market's love affair with Internet stocks won't end happily
January 18, 1999

Measuring Internet success: You shouldn't rely on traffic alone
January 11, 1999

Every column since August, 1997

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