Amazon tests mail-order catalog, restaurant listings

Amazon.com is beta testing a feature to allow mail-order catalog companies to list products and restaurants to display menus on its Web site, the company said Monday.

The service will allow mail-order catalogs to post versions of print catalogs online, and restaurants to post menus. Amazon.com would be "pointing (its) customers in the direction of products or services Amazon.com may not carry directly," and users would have to call the catalog or restaurant directly to obtain goods, said Rachel Silk, spokeswoman for the U.K. division of Amazon.com, on Monday.

The company, headquartered in Seattle, is not charging catalog companies or restaurants for participation in the testing phase of the service, but Silk declined to comment on plans for charging companies to display products once the service goes live. The beta testing is for the company's primary .com site and Silk also declined to comment on whether the company will bring the service to the localized versions of its sites in Europe and Japan.

Amazon has divided the catalogs into eight categories: arts and hobbies, car parts, home furnishings, industrial supplies, lifestyle, medical supplies, pet toys and science supplies, Silk said.

In the past, Amazon.com has attempted to generate revenue by changing large fees to promote other online retailers on its site. In late 1999, Amazon signed a string of deals with companies like Drugstore.com Inc. and the no longer operational Living.com Inc., but some of those deals resulted in lawsuits rather than revenue for Amazon.com.

More recently, Amazon.com has been promoting its online retailing technology and services to potential partners. Last September, Amazon.com and retailing giant Target Corp. signed a five-year deal to launch a Target store over Amazon.com, as well as using Amazon.com's e-commerce technology services, order fulfillment, and customer care services for all of Target's online properties, including target.com, MarshallFields.com, Mervyns.com and GiftCatalog.com.

Amazon.com has been facing stiff competition from eBay Inc. and Yahoo Inc. in the online retail market with each company keen to offer new services and online stores. For its part, Amazon.com has added travel, high-ticket luxury items and used products to its Web site.

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