eBay Forges into Italy

Online auction giant eBay (Nasdaq: EBAY) further extended its international reach Monday with the launch of an Italian Web site.

The new eBay Italy gives buyers and sellers in Italy access to the 5 million-plus items listed on the online auctioneer’s sites in Europe and around the world, and the ability to trade items using Italian lire, the company said.

“No other Web site offers Italian traders a proven local service with an international reach,” eBay president and chief executive officer Meg Whitman said.

According to the company, “thousands” of Italians are already eBay users, with some making a living through the sale of items over the service.

Expansion Amid Cutbacks

eBay’s expansion comes as others in the e-commerce sector have floundered. The company aims to be in 10 countries by the end of this year and 25 countries by the end of 2005, allowing it to reach the majority of the world’s online users.

In December, eBay launched a site in Austria, building on its German service, and opened its French site in October.

eBay officials have said they aim to grow the company’s revenue by 50 percent per year, with a goal of reaching US$3 billion by 2005.

To Italy from Korea

The new site is the second international launch for eBay so far this year. Last week, the company entered the Korean market with the acquisition of a majority stake in Internet Auction Co. Ltd., South Korea’s largest auction Web site.

eBay is spending approximately $120 million for its stake in Internet Auction, which has about 2.8 million registered users and hosted 465,000 new listings in November. Korea, with about one-third of its citizens online, is the sixth-largest Internet market in the world, according to eBay.

The company said that the Korean and Italian launches establish its service in nine countries that together generate the majority of the world’s e-commerce revenues.

Battle for Europe

In Europe, eBay is up against QXL Ricardo Plc, which boasts 1.4 million members and is widely considered to be the most popular auction site in theUnited Kingdom.

eBay, for its part, says that it is the No. 1 online auctioneer in the UK, as well as Germany, Canada and Australia and the United States.

However, eBay has faced hurdles in recent weeks, including its longest outage in recent memory, a privacy breach, a lawsuit related to eBay’s national television ad campaign by real estate giant Re/Max, and controversy over company policy concerning eBay users doing business with each other outside of eBay.

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