Beginning in December, Columbia residents will be able to log on to the Internet, order a product from a store at The Mall in Columbia and have it delivered to their home within about an hour.
The service will be provided by Smart Aim Corp., which said yesterday that it had signed an agreement with the Rouse Co. and Microsoft Corp. to give people Internet shopping.
Smart Aim expects to open the Columbia site in late November or early December, after 18 months of testing at a site in California. Installations at White Marsh and Owings Mills malls will come next year. In all, Rouse plans to have the system installed at 11 of its malls nationwide.
The program will help Rouse to keep dollars flowing through its mall stores at a time when more people are beginning to use the Internet to shop.
"We see this program providing a service to the shoppers and reinforcing our mall business," said Warren Wilson, vice president and director of site strategy at Rouse.
Smart Aim will set up kiosks in the malls where customers can sign up free. The customers will be given CD-ROMs they can use in their home computers that give them Internet access.
"Persons who sign up for the shopping club would be given free Internet access," said Wilson. "The mall would become an Internet provider."
The customer can then browse through a variety of products offered by stores in the mall. Although the products can be ordered on the Internet, they are delivered to the customer's house or office and paid for on delivery.
If the product isn't what the customer expects when it is delivered, the customer doesn't have to buy it. "This is potentially a very efficient way to use the Internet for shopping," said David L. Tripp, Rouse vice president of investor relations and public relations.
Wilson said he believes that the "Smart Shopper Explorer" is a one of a kind in the country. Smart Aim said it cannot predict how successful the program will be.
Much will depend on how familiar consumers are with Internet shopping, said Robert Van Duran, president of the Smart Aim, a Goodrich, Mich.-based company.
He said he expects about 85 percent of the merchants in the malls to participate in the shopping program. However, merchants may choose to offer only a few products over the Internet.
The stores are most interested in using the program to offer special discounts or sale items during holidays or promotions, according to Rouse.