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Originally published Monday, September 22, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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Blue Nile introduces Bill Me Later option

Would you be more likely to drop hundreds or thousands of dollars on new bling for your significant other this holiday season if you could...

Seattle Times business reporter

Would you be more likely to drop hundreds or thousands of dollars on new bling for your significant other this holiday season if you could put off payment until after the new year?

Today, Seattle-based Blue Nile, the world's largest online vendor of diamond engagement rings, introduces a new option allowing customers to postpone payments for 90 days on purchases of between $250 and $25,000.

Called Bill Me Later, it's offered through CIT Bank of Salt Lake City, and carries no finance charges, as long as a purchase is paid for within 90 days.

Otherwise, customers are charged an annual interest rate of 19.99 percent starting from the purchase date.

"I think customers will love the ability to buy a beautiful gift and pay for it after the holidays," said Blue Nile Chief Executive Diane Irvine.

Blue Nile accepts credit cards and other payment methods, including PayPal and Google Check-Out, but none of those offer the 90-day leeway of Bill Me Later. Given the tough economic climate, Irvine said, it "should especially resonate with consumers."

Blue Nile has seen its profits fall as U.S. consumers curtail their discretionary spending amid declining home values, stubbornly high gas prices and turmoil on Wall Street.

For the second quarter ended June 29, the company posted a profit of $3.2 million, down from $3.8 million a year ago. Shares closed Friday at $48.54, well below its 52-week high of $106.16.

Ed Kountz, who follows online-payment options as a senior analyst with Jupiter Research in Atlanta, said Bill Me Later appeals to consumers "whose purses may be downstairs, or their wallets upstairs," suggesting that many consider credit-card payments inconvenient.

To use Bill Me Later, consumers must enter their date of birth and the last four digits of their Social Security number, then wait a few seconds for approval, according to an audio demonstration.

"Convenience and the feeling of security are two of the primary drivers" Kountz said, noting that some consumers "don't want to enter their credit-card number online" for fear that it might end up in the wrong hands.

Amy Martinez: 206-464-2923 or amartinez@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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