Microsoft plugs Passport to local merchants

Microsoft's Passport authentication service - one of the cornerstones of its .NET strategy - will be launched in New Zealand within weeks.

Microsoft's Passport authentication service - one of the cornerstones of its .NET strategy - will be launched in New Zealand within weeks.

Microsoft's group manager for Passport Marketing, Jigish Avalani, was in New Zealand last week to pitch the service to local merchants.

Although New Zealanders have been free to sign up with the "digital identity management service", no local businesses have yet joined the scheme, which Microsoft rolled out in the US last October and subsequently to several other countries, including Australia.

Passport offers Internet users a single sign-in for any participating site, and an accompanying "digital wallet" that can carry shipping details and payment options. Authentication is carried out on Microsoft's server, which also holds Passport members' information.

Some commentators have raised privacy concerns over Microsoft building up what is effectively a vast consumer database. But in the current IDGNet Friday Fry-Up on this site, Avalani says Passport is "designed in such a way that consumers' privacy is maintained, obviously from our point of view, but contractually as well. Merchants contractually are bound to a very strong privacy statement that says that they will not abuse any of the consumer data that they get from Passport."

The pitch to consumers is speed and ease of purchase and being relieved of the need to remember multiple log-ins for various sites. Merchants are being promised better customer retention and conversion rates, and relief from the cost of managing customer authentication.

Avalani says Microsoft was able to woo large US merchants such as barnesandnoble.com last year because "we were able to prove to merchants that it would be valuable to them. Basically the merchants saw some great numbers for conversion rates and a way to eliminate the problem of shopping cart abandonment. It was a great value proposition for them."

Microsoft applies a set of service fees which are tiered based on the number of average unique users visiting a merchant site.

Microsoft New Zealand's Paul Muckleston says local implementations should be possible in a few weeks.

"What we need to do is just get the contracts localised for New Zealand out of Australia and the work out the mechanism by which we set it in New Zealand dollars.

"Then we set up some stuff on our Web site locally so people can go and get it and make sure our local engineers can get extra advice when they need it. The whole thing's set up so they don't actually need to be trained to implement Passport - there's a stack of white paper information for developers. So it's just promotion and logistics."

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