eBay launches 'virtual high street' for small businesses

Online auction internet site eBay is to launch a new site this autumn that will allow small and medium-sized businesses to compete on an equal footing with online retail giants.

The new eBay Express site will only offer new products at fixed prices. Sellers will be vetted to ensure they are "reputable" and will be required to guarantee prompt delivery and accept returns within a week. eBay will also monitor the feedback of business sellers to ensure that there are no credibility problems.

Douglas McCallum, managing director of eBay's UK division, says: "We want to create a virtual high street with a plethora of businesses, both large and small."

The site, which has already launched in the US, will go live in October, although small businesses can sign up now. It will look simpler and more professional than traditional eBay pages, highlighting images of the product.

With about 15 million registered users in the UK, eBay offers businesses access to a broad range of potential customers.

Selling unwanted goods on eBay has become a lucrative pastime for many UK individuals but the online retail site also offers a platform to sell a variety of goods without the overhead costs and physical limitations of high-street retail. Despite eBay's reputation for last-minute bargains and frenzied bidding on rare items, around 34 per cent of transactions in the first quarter were sold at a fixed price.

Companies as large as Vodafone, Canon and Thompson Holidays already use eBay to sell goods. However, many smaller retailers have been put off using the site, explains Azita Qadri, the small business manager for eBay UK.

She says many prefer to sell exclusively alongside other reputable businesses, while others do not want to list new products next to second-hand goods.

"A small retailer in Essex will now be able to compete against John Lewis," says Azita Qadri.

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