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You Can Buy Me Love Online

Josh Crump and Louisa Greaves fell in love - true, romantic, drippy and passionate love - over the Internet. They chatted in private virtual rooms, delivered bouquets with a click of a button and peppered each other with hundreds of digital greeting cards.

For the young couple, who will celebrate their first Valentine's Day as husband and wife this year in London, Canada, the Internet was an easy way to meet each other.

For Internet merchants, relationships like this one are easy ways to make money.

From the moment the two logged on, they were shown advertisements, offered deals and pitched products that were putting money in the pockets of e-commerce leaders.

From dating services to greeting cards, Internet merchants are cashing in on a new product this Valentine's Day: love.

Purchases of gifts and flowers online are expected to increase 63 percent, bringing in $413 million this year, according to Forrester Research, Inc. in Cambridge, Mass.

"Love always sells," said Pam Stubing, a retail analyst at Ernst & Young. "It could be a wonderful way to make money over the Web."

That's what Carley Roney figured when she looked at the $35 billion annual wedding industry.

She co-founded in 1996 with her husband, David Li, and two other partners.

They began with $1.5 million in seed money from America Online and received an additional $3 million in venture capital a year ago.

Business is booming. They sign up 1,000 new members a day and expect $4.5 million in revenues this year as lovebirds log in to register for gifts, search through wedding gowns, browse honeymoon ideas and consult Ms. Roney herself for etiquette advice.

The money comes from revenues from gifts sold through the wedding registry and from advertisers who pay $35,000 to have their banner on the site for three months.

Of course, before couples are ready to even visit they have to meet.

That's where the dating services come in.

Three years ago savvy matchmakers formed Match.Com, now the top Internet dating service.

They charge singles $12.95 a month to be screened and hooked up with potential heart mates.

Cupid apparently approves.

To date, Match.Com has registered more than 1.3 million members. So far, 150,000 couples have been formed and 750 couples have been married.

That's a lot of love, said Match.Com president John Spottiswood.

It's also a lot of money.

Hongjun Li, an Internet analyst at Parks Associates in Dallas, agreed that entrepreneurs launching a Web site shouldn't discount love.

"You make money with the advertising and the sales. You could make lots of money in this way," he said.

That was Tony Levitan's plan.

Levitan co-founded E-greetings in 1993 after graduating from business school at Stanford University.

At the E-greetings World Wide Web site, Internet love-surfers can sen one another enhanced e-mail messages, complete with music and animation. The company gives the cards away for free - their revenue comes from advertising.

The company is expecting to send up to 5 million virtual Valentines this year. Levitan said he expects those senders to also make about 100,000 purchases from their advertisers.

"Lots of industries have been driven by the heart," he said. "Why not e-commerce?"

©1999 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed

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