Telstra's Trading Post business hopes to grab millions of pissed-off eBay users by offering a free listing auction classifieds site.
Trading Post, owned by Telstra's Sensis division, today rolled out an online auctions capability, and CEO Bruce Akhurst makes no secret of the fact that it hopes to grab a large swathe of discontented eBay who don't want to be forced into using PayPal.
"It's truly an Australian alternative to eBay," Akhurst said. "This launch is perfectly timed as an alternative to our main competitor."
"We recognised the Trading Post needed to offer something that's different. We've made it quick and easy to use, we've made it flexible in the way you can buy and sell, and we've made it free to list."
(Of course, don't assume the Trading Post will remain a cute, cuddly, puppy-dog style company forever. Parent company Telstra, is, after all, the organisation that justifies price rises with the line "If you want to travel first class, you'll be prepared to pay more.")
To quickly populate the site, the Trading Post has been actively courting eBay "power sellers", who constitute a significant proportion of the site's local business. "These high volume bulk sellers represent a very significant proportion of online inventory, probably 80%," Akhurst said, predicting that Trading Post listing volumes will have increased by 25% by the weekend. "We're in discussions with dozens of power sellers and the response has been overwhelmingly positive."
The lack of an enforced selling methodology may prove to be the biggest advantage for the Trading Post. Options the site will offer include cash-on-delivery, cheques, postal orders, bank deposits, PayPal and PayMate.
The site, which uses cart technology from Intershop and search systems from FAST and has been planned for around 18 months, is being promoted as notably simpler than eBay's, with 524 categories (versus more than 11,000) and a more straightforward listing system.
What will it cost?
Final value fees on the site are roughly similar to eBay's, although the Trading Post is notably cheaper for the cheapest items, especially if PayPal fees are added to the calculation. For instance, sub-$10 items attract a flat 50 cent fee on the Trading Post. eBay charges 5.25% on all items up to $75, with a minimum listing fee of 30 cents and a PayPal fee of 30 cents a transaction, plus 2.4% of the fee. For an item selling for $6 plus $2 postage, that would result in an eBay fee of $1.10 — more than twice the cost at Trading Post.
In another calculated swipe at eBay, the Trading Post will also offer an Australian-based telephone support service. The inability to contact eBay via telephone, and the fact that even power sellers are forced to talk to a US call centre, has long been a bone of contention amongst users of the site.
To offset eBay's controversial argument that it offers the best security options, the Trading Post will allow buyers and sellers to undergo a 100-point identity check at Australia Post branches. The site will also be restricted to Australian users, which eliminates the potential of selling rare items to overseas buyers. (eBay, however, also concentrates on local sales, listing products sold from Australia first in any searches on the Australian site.)
While Trading Post's existing audience of 2 million may give it a useful leg-up, Telstra's track record in competing with global tech icons is patchy. Its Sensis search sites have singularly failed to persuade people to give up using Google, for instance. And competition will be fierce. Perhaps mindful of rumours of the Trading Post plans and widespread user annoyance, eBay last week discounted its listing fees for a fortnight.
Eventually, Akhurst hopes to extend the auction capability into other Sensis businesses, such as the White and Yellow Pages directories. A small-scale trial is continuing on a mobile version of the Trading Post site, although bizarrely this is restricted solely to Next G phones -- a distinct market-limiting move which can't be helpful when taking on a massive incumbent in the online auction space such as eBay. Then again, perhaps Telstra can't think outside its own position as massive incumbent in the telco world.
Market share? What market share?
In other eBay developments, the company has also made a final submission to the ACCC in response to the 500 or so complaints about its compulsory PayPal plans. The submission covers familiar ground, arguing that none of the rival submissions establish that the plan will result in substantially lessened competition. The ACCC will announce its decision before eBay's planned enforcement of PayPal on June 17.
Regardless, eBay's mania for secrecy remains in place. Its submission includes the following sentence: "Data does suggest that eBay transactions comprise only [[DELETED]] of all online transactions in Australia." Even the footnote containing this figure is blanked; apparently the size of eBay's business deserves the kind of secrecy normally reserved for personal data, despite its status as a listed company. Still, at least the submission doesn't suggest any of eBay's opponents are drug addicts.