eBay makes eco-play with new green marketplace

In a bid to win over eco- and socially conscious shoppers, the online auctioneer will add a new retail component to its fairly new community site WorldofGood.com.

eBay on Wednesday plans to unveil a new e-commerce site for shoppers of environmentally friendly and fair-trade goods, as expected.

In a bid to win over eco- and socially conscious shoppers, the online auctioneer will add a new retail component to its fairly new community site WorldofGood.com, which targets people who care about healthy living and the ethical treatment of workers. The site, which eBay built in partnership with fair-trade company World of Good, will sell products ranging from fair-trade coffee from Costa Rica to toxin-free skin cream from London.

The move is an attempt to capture a piece of the estimated $206 billion annual business in the U.S. surrounding fair-trade and environmentally made products. One of the pioneers in the business has been the natural food store Whole Foods, which over the years has broadened its scope to sell everything from organic-cotton baby clothing to fair-trade wine to eco-friendly bed slippers. Online, however, the business is still fragmented. eBay hopes to provide a one-stop shop for people interested in finding these goods.

"We have an opportunity to drive large-scale consumer demand by helping consumers make more informed choices about the products they buy, and doing so in a market that's historically been inefficient," said Robert Chatwani, eBay's general manager of the project.

What's different about WorldofGood compared with eBay, he said, is that shoppers will have more information about products--where they come from, how they're made, and how they affect the environment.

Chatwani helped conceive of the idea for the WorldofGood marketplace three years ago while traveling to India with fellow eBay employees. There, they found some sustainably made artisan products they believed would sell online, and could give some money back to the creator. They tested the idea and it worked. eBay teamed up with World of Good, a group designed to alleviate poverty in third worlds by helping sell local artists' goods globally.

Unlike eBay's traditional auction model, WorldofGood.com will sell products at fixed prices. The listings, of which there will be about 20,000 to start, will appear on WorldofGood as well as within eBay. The auction company will initially launch the store in the United States, but it plans to expand internationally, initially in Europe.

For now, the listings will span more than 70 countries and carry environmental or fair-trade certifications from about 25 eBay partners, including the Rainforest Alliance and Co-opt America. Product makers must have some sort of certification before they can apply to sell products on the site.

"Consumers are sleeping giants--they have a tremendous amount of purchasing power," Chatwani said. "We simply are introducing a new way for them to shop...and create a really positive social impact."

 

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