Merrill Lynch continues its push into e-commerce. After starting out with consumer products like meat from Omaha Steaks and books from Barnes & Noble, Merrill has expanded into business products and auctions.
Merrill Lynch's consumer shopping site (www.shopmerrill.com) now has 300 to 500 merchants selling more than 4.5 million products, says Joshua Nabozny, the firm's director of e-commerce.
Both individual and business clients earn points toward merchandise when they use the Visa cards that come with Merrill's CMA accounts. Clients get one point for every dollar they spend offline and three points for every dollar they spend on the Web.
Customers can use their points to pay their brokers. Each point is worth 1.5 cents. Clients contact Visa to have their points converted to cash on their next CMA statement. Then, those funds can be applied to fees and commissions.
Merrill has a shopping site for business clients, too--www.merrillebusiness.com--which is being operated through Works.com.
"The intent is to help business-owner clients manage procurement," Nabozny says. Business owners can give employees preapproved spending levels to buy office supplies and services, such as printing, coping and postage.
How many clients use the e-commerce services? Nabozny won't specify. He says only that the number is "very steep and growing on a daily basis."
Is Merrill making money from e-commerce? Nabozny says profits are not the point. "The objective is to provide services and benefits to our clients."
Nabozny adds that the business site is about to go through a "revolution" that will result in a "next generation" of services for business owners, but declines to offer further details
Acting as a high-tech barker, Merrill Lynch has launched its own auction site, www.merrillauctions.com. It features three different auction formats.
The first is a points auction, in which Merrill clients can use points earned on their CMA Visa cards to bid for "very well-priced merchandise," says Joshua Nabozny, the firm's director of e-commerce. A pocket TV, a wireless phone and an MP3 player were among the items up for auction in February.
Another section offers consumer-to-consumer bidding, like Ubid.com, which supplied Merrill with the infrastructure for the service, Nabozny says.
The third auction segment, which was built through a partnership with TradeOut.com, is for business owners who want to liquidate excess inventory.