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EBay rediscovers neighborly roots

From the Associated Press

san francisco -- Hoping to woo shoppers who say EBay Inc. has lost its folksy appeal, the world’s largest online auction plans to launch its own version of a social networking service today and is promising other customer-friendly features by year’s end.

The new Neighborhoods feature encourages users to post photos, product reviews, tips and responses -- creating a far more visual and interactive experience than EBay’s text-based discussion forums.

The move is one result of a broad reorganization strategy started in late 2006, when the San Jose-based e-commerce leader’s scorching growth rate began to slow.

Individuals listed 480 million items on EBay in the second quarter, down 6% from the first quarter and down 2% from a year earlier. The number of listings by “power sellers” who operated EBay stores was 79.1 million -- unchanged from the previous quarter but down 25% from a year earlier.

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Many users complain that the site’s size -- it listed 559.1 million items worth $14.46 billion in the second quarter -- can make it tough to find and purchase a specific product quickly. Users are turning to rivals such as Seattle-based Amazon.com, Salt Lake City-based Overstock.com Inc. and Chicago-based UBid Inc.

“We knew we had to change things internally because we couldn’t innovate with the effectiveness or speed we needed,” EBay spokesman Hani Durzy said Tuesday.

Neighborhoods aggregates postings from EBay blogs, guides and reviews.

Among the 600 new neighborhoods is Shoe Heads, intended as a haven for footwear fashionistas.

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Others include Beyonce and Battlestar Galactica, and still more will be formed based on the popularity of search terms and community feedback.

“People who are passionate about certain brands, trends, celebrities or products have been discovering and trading with one another for years,” said Jamie Iannone, an EBay vice president in charge of buyer experience. “Neighborhoods makes this even easier.”

This year EBay will roll out One Click Bid, which should boost a buyer’s chances of winning during an auction’s final 15 minutes. EBay also plans to streamline its My EBay service and speed its cumbersome checkout process.

Building a sense of community should keep buyers and sellers at EBay longer, experts said Tuesday.

“The idea is this will provide more ‘stickiness’ so a user will come back more often, spend more time there and will more likely purchase items,” said Karsten Weide, an analyst at research firm IDC. “This should make consumers’ lives a whole lot easier.”


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