AOL to offer E-Stamp services
November 23, 1998
by Torsten Busse
(IDG) -- Electronic postage provider E-Stamp Corporation said Thursday that America Online will make the E-Stamp Internet postage service available to its members in early 1999, when AOL plans to launch its new Postage Services Center.
Gaining AOL as a distribution channel is a substantial coup for E-Stamp, which expects to get approval from the U.S. Postal Service in the first quarter of next year to sell postal services nationwide, according to Milton Howard, director of product marketing at E-Stamp.
"This agreement represents a huge opportunity for us to get to a significant number of small businesses," Howard said. He added that AOL serves 3.5 million small businesses and home business customers, the primary target for E-Stamp's services. AOL will offer the E-Stamp service across its user communities, including AOL, CompuServe, AOL.com, and AOL's Digital City.
E-Stamp, which currently has Postal Service approval to conduct pilot tests of its electronic postage service in San Francisco and Washington, D.C., allows users to download electronic stamps from the Internet or AOL's online service to a PC hard drive. From popular desktop applications, such as Microsoft Word, users can then place and print e-stamps on envelopes.
E-Stamp Internet Postage software automatically verifies an address and prints the correct postage on an envelope -- or directly onto a document -- and simultaneously deducts the postage amount from the customer's account. Any 300-dot-per-inch ink jet or laser printer works with the E-Stamp software, Howard said.
AOL's Postage Services Center will feature direct links to E-Stamp's Web site, where AOL members and other Web users can purchase postage using a major credit card or prepay by check, with the value of the check stored in the customer's account.
AOL is the first of several Internet portal sites that will feature the e-postage service, E-Stamp's Howard said, though he declined to reveal other potential outlets.
Currently, there are three other companies that have conditional or limited approval from the Postal Service to sell stamps online, but E-Stamp was the first to get the go-ahead. It expects to also become the first company to gain nationwide approval early next year, Howard said.
E-Stamp said it will establish accounts on behalf of its customers; set up on-demand refund services; offer 24-hour, seven-day support services; and provide timely software updates to account for changes in postage values.
In the long run, E-Stamp will be integrated with all the top personal information management, accounting, and word processing applications, Howard said.
Earlier this year, in July, E-Stamp announced several alliances aimed at making its Internet stamps available outside the United States as well.
Back then, E-Stamp, which is partially owned by Microsoft, AT&T Ventures, and venture capital firm Canaan Partners, lined up Compaq and Germany-based Francotyp-Postalia AG & Company as additional strategic investors. Starting next year, Compaq will bundle E-Stamp's services with its Presario PCs, targeted at the small-office market.
While it's initially targeting the SOHO market as well, E-Stamp also plans to bring out a Web browser-based version of E-Stamp for individuals, and a client/server version for intranets and LANs targeted at workgroups and departments.
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