A mouse-clickers' guide to online 'gofers'

Virtual concierge services take many forms.

The most comprehensive ones mainly benefit employees of progressive companies.

But more and more are available directly to consumers. So far most take care of only one specific errand - like picking up items you need to send out.

To get anything you need, anytime, right to your doorstep, consumers have traditionally had to combine the services of several online concierges.

But now, a handful of services have emerged on the Internet that will run deliveries in both directions.

Zoots.com, for example, will pick up and drop off dry cleaning.

Streamline.com does this and much more, including picking up film and returning with finished photos, shopping for groceries, repairing shoes, and renting videos. This online concierge, available in Boston, Chicago, New Jersey, and Washington, D.C., delivers anything you want for $30 a month.

Kozmo.com charges no monthly fee, offering its services in 10 major US cities. It promises to deliver books, movies, CDs, food, household items, and electronics within an hour. Minimum order: $5.

UrbanFetch.com delivers books, music, movies, games, electronics, drugstore goods, food, and gifts for free in New York City with a $10 minimum order.

Online grocery delivery services such as Webvan.com, Peapod.com, and Homeruns.com are branching out to other areas including videos and flowers.

None of these services will yet help you find the right store, or where the best deals are.

Other outfits are springing up that work like price clubs to provide that kind of information.

They make partnerships with merchants who offer a discount to "subscribers" in return for advertising.

VIPdesk.com, for instance, will find restaurants of any kind, help you find other entertainment and gifts (though the search engine malfunctioned when the Monitor visited). But you have to make the reservations yourself. VIPdesk also provides full-service concierge services for employees and customers of businesses that sign up for the service.

ServiceLane.com will hook you up with anybody from a painter or roofer to a caterer to an accountant for free no matter where you live.

Still other services keep track of appointments. Carclub.com, keeps track of when your car needs maintenance. And Xtime.com, serves as a comprehensive appointment scheduling service, though it's only available to privileged employees so far.

Many of these one-trick ponies, however, are starting to offer more complete services. General Motors' OnStar for instance, will buy some things for its customers and have them delivered. If you want your dry cleaning picked up, though, they may just hire Zoots.

And if you really want it all, you can always sign up for one of several platinum credit cards that offer a free concierge service.

All platinum cards assist travelers with official documents, insurance, and a referral service to local shops and professionals.

Several large banks' platinum benefits, and all Mastercard "World Cards" (above platinum) go further - offering sedan and limousine service, gift-buying, dining reservations, event tickets, and research into hard to find items.

The biggest news: As these services become more prevalent, consumers will have fewer and fewer chores to do for themselves.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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