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Last Updated: Tuesday, 4 July 2006, 19:29 GMT 20:29 UK
eBay offers e-commerce site for firms
By Jorn Madslien
Business reporter, BBC News

Dough McCallum, managing director, eBay UK
Ebay wants to make shopping from multiple sellers much easier

The online auction site eBay has announced plans to launch an e-commerce site this autumn, which it says will allow small and medium companies to compete with leading UK High Street retailers.

"A small player will be able to take on a large player and compete on an equal footing," according to eBay UK's small business director, Anita Qadri.

"A small retailer in Essex will be able to look like John Lewis online."

EBay express is essentially "about selling new products at a fixed price", according to eBay UK's managing director, Doug McCallum.

No big bang

As such, for companies that already have their own online retailing outlet, eBay express offers little that is different from the standard online shopping experience.

Except that its current auction site currently has 15 million registered users in the UK, Ms Qadri points out.

"You may have a wonderful site, but it is unlikely that you'll have the traffic," she says.

The auction site's current reach is the main reason why companies should also list on eBay express.

However, when pushed the eBay executives acknowledge that there is no guarantee that the new site, which will exist in parallel with the auction site, will attract as many shoppers as the auction site does.

"I don't think it is going to be a big bank experience," Mr McCallum says.

EBay express has already been launched in the US, but Mr McCallum says he is unable to divulge what proportion of the auction site's users have migrated over.

Multiple sellers

Mr McCallum is convinced eBay express will become popular with the 68,000 people in the UK who make their main or an additional income from trading on eBay.

eBay express
The hope is that eBay's auction customers will migrate over

One-person operations and other small retailers have long been able to sell their wares on the auction site, and currently just over a third of all eBay transactions in the UK are fixed-price deals.

But buying from these sellers has often proved a cumbersome experience, explains Mr McCallum.

Consider the exercise of buying a bicycle and stabilisers from two different sellers; currently, you will have to carry out two transactions.

Moreover, while you are busy buying the bike, someone else might buy the stabilisers - and by then it will be a bit late to cancel the bicycle purchase.

On eBay express, this will not be a problem.

"We've taken the sting out of buying from multiple sellers," explains Mr McCallum.

"You just check out once."

Positive feedback?

EBay also expects a lot of companies that have not used eBay before because they have been loath to advertise alongside amateurs peddling collectables and unwanted gear.

"This will excite a lot of people who were maybe holding back," says Ms Qadri.

"This ratchets up the trust level to what you'd expect from a business," explains Mr McCallum, implicitly acknowledging that eBay's auction site is plagued by rogue traders.

However, unlike a visit to trusted names like John Lewis online - to stick with Ms Qadri's example - there are no guarantees that the small retailer from Essex can be trusted.

Just as there are fraudsters on the eBay auction site, there can be fraudsters on eBay express, and it seems eBay is planning to remain reliant on customers to alert it to any problems.

A company's "account has to be in good standing", insists Ms Qadri, "so we will keep an eye on the feedback".

EBay users are familiar with the feedback system, however, so there is every chance that trust will build strongly and quickly for companies selling via eBay express.

Should that happen, and the customers turn up in large numbers, then eBay's new service really may become the "no-brainer" that Ms Qadri says it is.

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