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The Cyber Space

E-commerce is undeniably enjoying its status as a media darling. Everywhere you look on the Web, companies are launching e-tailing efforts, and consumers are finally beginning to notice. Once the revenue models get sorted out, the younger set will undoubtedly be...
May 1, 1999

E-commerce is undeniably enjoying its status as a media darling. Everywhere you look on the Web, companies are launching e-tailing efforts, and consumers are finally beginning to notice. Once the revenue models get sorted out, the younger set will undoubtedly be a key target audience. This month, we take a look at a frontrunner in kid-focused retail concepts on the Net.

While any Web hotspot (for example, Amazon.com or CdNow) could easily tailor its content with kid-oriented products and services, most have resisted because of one major sticking point-few (if any) kids have access to the all-critical credit card. Enter iCanBuy.com, an on-line retail site dedicated to giving kids shopping pow-ah! iCanBuy credit is supplied to kid shoppers by the bank of Mom and Dad, who deposit dollars into their child’s on-line account from their credit card. Once the dough is deposited, transactions work on a debit system.

The site’s product slate comes from a partner lineup that’s projected to number 100 by the end of 1999. The current list includes: 999software (which sells everything from screen- savers to educational CD-ROMs), buycurious (hats, knapsacks and dog collars), Justballs (for um, just balls) and mxgonline (for girls clothing and accessories). The key target demo is kids ages 10 to 16, but content tends to skew to the younger side of that demo.

The biggest problem iCanBuy must overcome is that adults tend to get uneasy when they hear the words ‘kids’ and ‘credit’ in the same sentence. The fact that, for most, the Internet is uncharted territory only feeds this worry: leave your kids alone with a charge account, and the next thing you know you could have a brand new Mercedes delivered to your door. iCanBuy overcomes this perception problem by giving parents full control over where their child shops, and by allowing parents to approve spending levels. With the ability to control key cashflow elements, you can hear parents everywhere breathe a collective sigh of relief.

But wait, isn’t this just one more thing to instill in kids a driving need to consume? Rest easy. iCanBuy has partnered with Security First Network Bank (SFNB) to integrate an on-line savings function (‘create an interest-bearing, FDIC-insured savings account for your child’), and with the Jumpstart Coalition, whose mandate is to encourage ‘financial smarts for students.’ In the same vein, a link to the CWLA (Child Welfare League of America), a non-profit organization that works to develop and promote child-protective policies and programs, provides an on-line presence that reinforces the concept of giving. The idea behind partnering with these groups is to extinguish any potential heat that might arise from the hypersensitive issue of kids on-line spending.

Want more? Parents can register friends or relatives, allowing them to make gift deposits to the child’s account-a very crafty tactic that brings the extended family into the mix, but at a distance because they’re only depositing, and relatives can rest assured that the kids purchases are still subject to parental controls.

There are very few revenue models that work effectively in an on-line context. In the kids domain, the problem is exacerbated by the fact that they tend not to have access to e-friendly spending vehicles, but the iCan Buy model neatly circumvents this problem.

Although the saintly goal of ‘teaching kids to spend responsibly’ rings a bit false in my ears, the thing that I really like about this site is the way in which it generates workable solutions to deflate parental objections that surround the concept of kids and on-line spending. iCanBuy is a feasible alternative that never existed on the Web before, empowering kids by giving them their own payment mechanism. It’s a strong, strong concept, and with the added advantage of being the first to market, you can expect iCanBuy to be rocketing into the next millennium.

Next month: Two on-line retailers go head-to-head for kid dollars

Greg Skinner is the director of Mina, a market intelligence company with expertise in the youth market. He also admits to being a bit of a World Wide Web junkie. KidScreen asked him to do some browsing on our behalf and report on the latest developments in new media and how these innovations are having an impact on the kids entertainment industry. He is still at it. If you have any suggestions or ideas for topics you’d like to see in ‘The Cyber Space,’ please contact Greg Skinner at 416-504-6800 (phone), 416-504-4054 (fax) or postmaster@minathinks.com (e-mail).

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