Personal Finance: Get ready to shop till you drop off in front of your PC screen...

INTERNET INVESTOR
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It would be unfair to say the anoraks were out in force at the Internet World 98 exhibition over the last few days. For one, thing it has been far too hot to wear an anorak.

Indeed, technology for the sake of technology appeared to take a back seat at the exhibition, with a much greater focus on, in particular, software developments aimed at boosting e-commerce in all its forms, business- to-business and business-to-consumer.

This was not a show for the consumer. It was aimed at people in the internet business, or those wanting to be in the internet business.

However, anybody who does not believe that, within the next decade, they are likely to be monitoring their bank account, ordering their shopping, booking their holiday and buying their insurance and cinema tickets over the internet would have had their certainties shaken up.

A survey by Datamonitor on behalf of the show's sponsors, Mecklermedia, forecasts 100 per cent growth per annum in consumer use of the internet in the UK over the next five years.

By 2002, individual consumers will be responsible for generating 65 per cent of UK internet services turnover, a market which is likely to be worth a total of pounds 2bn. Within that figure, on-line shopping is expected to grow from pounds 6.7m in 1997 to more than pounds 600m by 2002.

Several stands at the exhibition were displaying software designed to allow secure payments over the world wide web. Among them, NetBanx is a privately owned company which offers secure, on-line card clearance facilities. It currently has the capability to process Visa and Mastercard credit cards, plus American Express, Diners Club, Eurocard, JCB, Switch, Delta and all Visa-affiliated debit cards.

You can check out exactly how the company's products work on its website but be sure you spell the name correctly - netbanx with an "x". If you type in "netbank"with a "k" you will find yourself on the website of a bank in Atlanta, Georgia.

The internet may have created a global market but the world does not have a global currency. Yet. Well, actually it does. WorldPay's multi- currency micro-payment system allows low-value purchases to be made in the lowest denomination of more than 100 currencies. Payments are secured using a WorldPay Smartcard.

The first on-line shop to use WorldPay's secure transactions software opened in 1994. Barclays Bank's e-shopping mall, BarclaySquare, was developed in conjunction with WorldPay.

Furthermore, presumably on the principle of "if you can't beat them, join them", banknote printer De La Rue signed a global marketing and development deal with WorldPay last year.

Other companies were also offering secure software to allow on-line transactions but the actual transaction is only part of the story. Underlining the future importance of electronic commerce was news at Internet World 98 that both Microsoft and Intel, the twin giants of personal computing, were signing up development partners.

Intel is partnering German firm Intershop Communications while the UK- based internet trading specialist, Triptych Systems, is working with Microsoft.

Even older-established names in the communications business are leaping on the e-commerce bandwagon. Cable & Wireless has launched an e-commerce service licensed from US group Open Market.

Among its first customers is Oxford University Press, with one of the most comprehensive ranges of academic books in the world.

Perhaps of more immediate use to the general consumer is Yell, the website of Yellow Pages. You can probably work out what this offers. However, in addition to the more traditional directory function, the site is developing "transactional sites" to allow small businesses to offer us their products on the web.

Netbanx: www.netbanx.com

WorldPay: www.worldpay.com

Yellow Pages: www.yell.co.uk

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