Internet Commerce Knows No Boundaries

Japan is leading a new wave of international commerce with software that creates on-line Internet catalogs

Web commerce is starting to spread beyond U.S. borders and nowhere is the trend more evident than in Asia.

In June, the owners of Asahi Net, the leading Internet services provider in Japan, invested $2 million in America's dominant developer of on-line sales and marketing software, proceeding with a plan to commercialize the World Wide Web in Asia.

A survey by Forrester Research, Cambridge, Mass., indicates that worldwide commerce on the Web, already a $240 million business in 1995, will grow to more than $950 million in 1997.

The joint venture between Japan's Trans Cosmos International and Seattle-based iCat Corp. will bring a popular Internet product to Asia and also enhance the iCat's technology development efforts.

iCat presently makes software called Electronic Commerce Suite, which enables companies to create on-line catalogs for selling and merchandising products on the Internet.

"TCI can quickly introduce our product to tens of thousands of Japanese customers," said Craig Danuloff, president and CEO of iCat.

"We believe the partnership will provide the same level of success with merchants, Internet service providers and Web developers in Japan as we are currently enjoying in the U.S."

iCat's software is sold off the shelf in computer retail outlets in America. The shrink-wrapped product includes more than 200 templates of catalogs, secure electronic-transaction processing and a custom product-search capability for users.

Merchants who purchase the software can use it with any Internet server or networking device, and it is compatible with Macintosh and Windows operating systems, Sun Microsystems and Silicon Graphics computers.

Currently, many national companies in America work with the iCat software, such as retailers Wal-Mart, Spiegel and J.C. Penney, office supplies store Office Depot, children's game maker Edutainment Co., household products maker Amway Corp., motivational book seller Covey Leadership Center and gourmet grocer Dean & DeLuca.

Dean & DeLuca, for example, sells wine and cheese baskets, smoked salmon from Scotland and Asian teas through its interactive catalog. The catalog, offered on-line, enables upscale customers to shop from home after a hectic day at the office, and its simple point-and-click interface provides shoppers with volumes of product information and full-color images of the goods.

"The software represents a new generation of electronic commerce technology, allowing merchants to focus on marketing their products and serving their customers, rather than on computer programming and software integration," an iCat spokesman said.

The software is priced at $25,000, which is relatively inexpensive compared to hiring a consultant to build a customized Web site, a feat which can cost upward of $1 million, according to research by International Data Group.

TCI, based in Tokyo, has the channels to distribute the software, gleaned from its creation of Asahi Net. It also has distribution agreements with other top U.S. software makers, such as Spry, maker of the Internet-in-a-Box sign-up kit for consumers, CompuServe and Microsoft. TCI also works closely with NTT, the major phone company in Japan.

"We'll strengthen our Japanese offerings by adding the iCat Electronic Commerce Suite to our product lineup," said Yasuki Matsumoto, president of the EnCompass Group, a joint venture of TCI and Nikko Securities, the world's biggest securities firm and facilitator of the deal with iCat.

"At the same time, we will assist iCat with its distribution. It is through these types of deals that TCI hopes to maintain its lead in the business of the Internet in Japan."

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