An online shopping mall with heart

From midnight tonight, you can shop online and feel virtuous at the same time, and it won't cost you a cent extra. That's the message from free2give.com.au, which was launched today in Sydney.

If free2give works as advertised, it will be a classic example of a win-win -- or perhaps win-win-win-win -- situation.

Visit the free2give online shopping mall, the first of its kind in Australia, and on one side you'll find a list of leading Australian charities. Choose one you'd like to support, then go to lists of well-known e-tailers, follow the links, and start spending.

Every time you make a purchase, the retailer pays free2give a referral fee, which is split 50-50 with the charity of your choice. Depending on the retailer, the charity will receive up to 5 per cent of the purchase price. Shoppers can click a link to see a particular retailer's rate of contribution.

Charities allied to free2give include The Heart Foundation, CARE Australia, the Starlight Foundation and nearly 50 more. Many of the 40-plus retailers involved are now household names such as Dymocks, eBay, HMV and Innovations.

The scheme is the brainchild of Simon and Neill Whiston, brothers who emigrated to Australia two years ago from the UK where in 10 years they had built a smallish tapware firm, Bristan, into a $A50 million a year business. To bring free2give to fruition has cost the brothers just over $500,000.

By the end of this year, according to www.consult, some 20 per cent of the Australian population will buy at least one item online. free2give says that if every one of those people made a purchase worth $20 through their mall at the average donation rate then $1,520,000 would go to charities.

According to managing director Simon Whiston, for simplicity's sake they will cap the number of allied charities at "a sensible number" perhaps around 100, but are happy to partner with as many retailers as are interested because in a shopping mall "choice is everything".

Initial site development was done with HTML by technical manager Neill, who said his brother is "passionate about IT". The current second version was built on Cold Fusion's Spectra, by Computer Associates.

Accountability and privacy issues have also been covered in the scheme. PricewaterhouseCoopers will audit the business regularly to make sure all the money is landing where it should, and no information about individual purchasers is passed to the recipient charities.

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