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Microsoft and Best Buy have announced a partnership to meet the needs of small business customers who would like to establish a web presence but are reluctant to create sites on their own.

Best Buy for Business will enable small businesses to purchase subscription cards for Microsoft Office Live services - designed to help businesses get online easily and affordably - at select Best Buy locations, online, and over the phone.

Customers can receive a discount on the Microsoft Office Live monthly subscription fee, getting three months for the price of one. Best Buy for Business technology professionals, who are Microsoft certified, will also work closely with small-business customers to determine which of the collaboration tools and solutions best fit their business.

The Geek Squad 24-Hour Computer Support Task Force is available for business-grade technology support and can help Microsoft Office Live customers hit the ground running.

Microsoft Office Live, available in three editions, is a comprehensive and affordable set of easy-to-use, internet-based software and services. The product aims to serve small businesses with their sales and marketing needs, including Microsoft Office Live adManager beta, integration with Microsoft Office Accounting Express 2007, and Microsoft Office Accounting Professional 2007, enhanced web design tools and templates, more storage space, additional company-branded email accounts and calendars, and the ability for customers and colleagues to use their own company domain name with Windows Live Messenger. Microsoft Office Live Business Contact Manager, a tool to help small companies manage business relationships in an organised and effective way, is available now in subscription-based Microsoft Office Live offerings.

Few could deny that establishing and marketing a business online is no longer considered a luxury because it appears that consumers are increasingly turning to the web to research products and services.

According to Best Buy, most consumers spend nearly 14 hours a week online; the same amount of time they spend watching TV. The Microsoft Office Live partnership appears to have made it easy for small business owners to create, maintain and market their websites.

This partnership and the implication that small business owners and others can actually sit down with human beings to deal with setting up the online aspects of their business rather than wrestle with the complexities of self-service ecommerce may be more profound that it appears at first glance.

We are reminded of a story told at an early RSA Conference at the Sofitel Hotel in Redwood City. The speaker, who we believe was Lynn McNulty, talked about the construction of the US Interstate Highway System. He postulated that no one could have predicted the effect on the economy and the growth of jobs to service those highways: gas stations, hotels, etc. The implication was that it would be difficult to predict the growth of businesses around the burgeoning internet economy.

We believe that small business resistance to online commerce can be overcome with personal, reasonably priced, and highly available support services. Points of purchase like Best Buy, Staples, Office Depot, Wal-Mart and others can offer attractive platforms for these services. In effect, the mass retailer and office supply store becomes a VAR for the masses.

However, it remains to be seen whether the partnership can attract a critical mass of customers. If it does, Sageza believes that others, like those we've named above, can be expected to enter the market as well.

Overall, we think greater availability of support will lower the dollar commitment small businesses in particular will need to take advantage of the internet and its potential.

Copyright © 2007, The Sageza Group

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