Bidville and beyond: EBay refugees' options

Even Amazon says it's seen a spike in seller registrations since word broke of eBay's controversial new policies.

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More than 350,000 sellers are registered on Bidville, but 25,000 active accounts provide most of the site's 1 million listings, Hoffman said.

Overstock - the site best known for liquidating retailers' excess inventory at low, fixed prices - also sees opportunity in eBay's new policies.

Following eBay's announcement last week, the Overstock (OSTK) team worked through the weekend to design a new strategy highlighting its lesser-known auctions space, said Overstock CEO Patrick Byrne.

The result? Overstock, in Salt Lake City, will redesign the header on its homepage to direct more traffic to its auctions tab. It plans to accelerate a software rollout that will beef up its auctions community message boards - and it's laying plans to produce 15-second Internet commercials to get the word out.

"We think the time is right to position ourselves in this category," Byrne said.

Even Amazon has noticed an uptick in new seller accounts in the last week. Best known in its early days as an online bookstore, Amazon (AMZN, Fortune 500) expanded into consumer electronics and other categories, and in 2000 began allowing third-party sellers to list their wares alongside Amazon's offerings. All products are offered at a fixed price.

Today, 26% of all items sold on Amazon come from its 1.3 million third-party sellers, who range from mom-and-pop vendors to Target Corp (TGT, Fortune 500).

Amazon refrains from offering auctions because its buyers and sellers prefer the convenience of a set price, according to business solutions general manager Matt Williams. Amazon has devised a number of different rate programs for sellers; one takes a percentage of gross revenues, while another charges a referral fee per item.

"We've certainly heard of frustration with other marketplaces, and we've seen a significant increase in registrations," said Williams.

Longtime eBay seller Debi Lee said Amazon has worked well for certain items in her repertoire. She tired of eBay's tactics and now uses the site primarily to educate consumers about her products, which include silk clothing for plus-sized women. Lee has also launched her own Web store and advertises through Google's AdWords, where she pays only when consumers click on her ad.

The Google question

A number of sellers are clamoring for Google (GOOG, Fortune 500) to launch an auction site, and Lee said she might conside that option if it were available. Lee also plans to investigate and Etsy, which focuses on handmade crafts.

"Why sell only through one venue?" said Lee, of Oakland, Calif. "Those 100%-reliant on eBay for their livelihood will now understand that folly."

Google is being customarily tight-lipped about any plans to examine the auction space. "We don't comment on market rumor or speculation," said a company spokeswoman.

Yahoo retired its U.S. and Canadian auction sites in June 2007, but it still operates Yahoo Auctions in select Asian markets. Company spokeswoman Diana Wong declined to speculate on whether Yahoo (YHOO, Fortune 500) might get back into the U.S. auctions business.

Representatives of Microsoft (MSFT, Fortune 500), which last week launched a $44 billion bid to buy Yahoo, also declined to comment.

Meanwhile, eBay's corporate response to the seller backlash is to downplay it.

While sellers are burning up Internet forums, including FSB's discussion board, with vitriolic criticism of the planned new policies, eBay spokesman Usher Lieberman said sellers' reactions in eBay's town hall forums have been "balanced."

"The community understands the rationale behind these changes," he said.

At the same time, Lieberman acknowledged that eBay's sellers are, first and foremost, entrepreneurs.

"They have a lot of different channels available to them, and we expect they're evaluating what the changes mean for their business," he said.  To top of page

Leaving eBay? What sites are you looking at? Join the discussion - and check out sellers' comments in our initial eBay comment thread.

Related story: EBay fee hike sparks seller rebellion
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