The Internet brought us shopping from our personal computers. Now a Kansas company says its going to make that shopping safer, and more convenient, with a first-of-a-kind set of tools that includes online payment, escrow and shipping to and from home or office.
Nescrow Technologies Inc, founded in 1995, has just launched SelfShip, the first piece of its patent-pending Net Transaction Protocol. NTP is a system that integrates payment and shipment of goods. When all the pieces are in place, NTP will handle shipping, placing funds in escrow, making credit card and electronic transfer transactions and returning merchandise all in one spot. The system will be available as whole or in pieces, as the user needs.
"You don't have to go to Mail Boxes Etc., the post office or FedEx," said Gary Simmons, Nescrow's president and chief operating officer.
Nescrow's SelfShip service, the first component of NTP, is up and running at www.nescrow.com. This service allows users to register, enter the information about their package, select a shipping option, insure the package and pay for delivery with a credit card or electronic transfer. After they hit "send," the shipping company does the rest of the work. A driver will show up at the user's doorstep or any other address with a preprinted label and pick up the shipment. Users can log back on to the Web site to track their package.
Federal Express is the preferred carrier for SelfShip, and it is the only one integrated into the system at the moment. Simmons said that Nescrow will add other shipping companies in the future to allow users even more shipping options.
SelfShip is just the first piece of NTP. The system also creates "safe" transactions, integrating escrow into the shipment and payment, with PayNShip, a buying and selling fraud protection product.
Safe buying and selling
NTP is also designed to counter fraud in individual-to-individual, individual-to-business and business-to-business online transactions.
The Internet Fraud Complaint Center, www.ifccfbi.gov, received 20,014 filings between May 2000 and November 2000. During that period, 22.3 percent of the Internet fraud reported to them came from non-deliverable merchandise and 64.1 percent came from auction fraud. Of those complaints, 92.1 percent came from individuals, who lost an average of $233.
Nescrow's PayNShip automatically puts the buyer's payment in escrow, or a system that allows a third party to hold payment or goods until the fulfillment of a deal, until the sale is complete and both parties are happy.
Buyers purchase items on online auctions or from classified ads that either don't live up to their promises or just don't arrive. NTP addresses this problem. Nescrow worked with UMB Bank to create a totally electronic escrow system. When a buyer purchases goods and requests them shipped, NTP puts their payment in escrow and informs the seller. The system also allows the buyer put all their shipping information into SelfShip. The shipment can be tracked on Nescrow's Web site. When the buyer receives the goods, they have five days to inspect them. If the goods are acceptable, the deal is completed and the money goes to the seller.
"If they're okay, you don't do anything. If however there is a problem, you go back to the site and you select return," Simmons said. Then the shipping company returns with another pre-printed label, picks up the goods and ships them back to the seller. On the other end, the seller has another five days to inspect the return, and then the payment is returned to the buyer.
"The system protects you," Simmons said.
PayNShip should be available by early June.
"Transactionable" classified advertising
Nescrow has partners waiting to implement the NTP technology as soon as it is available. Morris Communications Corporation, an Augusta, Ga., based media company that has invested in Nescrow, has already begun integrating SelfShip into its online classified advertising across its chain of more than 30 newspapers and dozens of local, regional and national Web sites. Michael Romaner, MCC's Director of Online Services, said that as soon as PayNShip is available, Morris sites will add that functionality to their classifieds as well.
"This is the first tool that has come along that makes online classifieds truly transactionable," Romaner said. "I can now buy a set of golf clubs from anyone in the country and feel that everything I need, from having my money safe in escrow to having them shipped by a major shipper, can be handled in a single system."
" 'NTP' could become a powerful standard in the industry," he said.
Other companies are interested in the technology for their online advertising as well. One of them is AdOne, an online aggregator of classified advertising from hundreds of U.S. newspapers.
"AdOne is very excited about its new partnership with Nescrow. In the future, we see Nescrow's integrated, transactional services adding real value to AdOne's classified listings," said Shawn Hood, AdOne Product Manager. "By providing the means for securely completing transactions, we expect to enhance both the buyer and seller experience and also develop a new revenue stream."
The technology has applications beyond online classifieds and auctions, Romaner said. It's yet another leveling agent that the Internet has brought to commerce.
"NTP makes the advantages a big company has available to everyone," he said. Using NTP, anyone can take payment with a credit card, get door-to-door shipping and the safety of escrow.
Looking for growth
Simmons says that Nescrow looks for considerable growth in the use of NTP. One of the key markets for NTP, online auctions, is growing at a huge rate, he said, and so is online shipping.
"We are looking to have a million transactions a month a year from now," he said.
If online consumer spending is any indication, they could hit their goal. Online consumer spending jumped from $7.7 billion in 1998 to $17.3 billion in 1999, a 124 percent increase, and was expected to reach $28 billion in 2000, according to the Statistical Abstract of the United States: 2000 from the Commerce Department's Census
Eventually, Simmons said, NTP will offer other tools for online business, including cataloguing. That would allow small business, otherwise unable to market their stock online, to put their inventory online and sell over the Web.
"We will host all the information, assign a URL to you, and you're in business," Simmons said.
Nescrow also offers consulting, programming and integrated platforms for Web-based cash management and payment systems for financial institutions.
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