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Accenture connects to eBay

The consulting company launches a new service that aims to provide help to business customers seeking to sell excess inventory via the online auctioneer.

    Business consultancy Accenture has launched its "Connection to eBay" service, which aims to provide help to corporate customers that want to sell excess inventory on auction site eBay.

    Accenture announced the service in May, and had been testing it until last month, when it became fully available, said Marty Hodgett, an Accenture partner in charge of business development for the project. The companies plan to make an official announcement of the launch in the near future.

    "All systems are go," Hodgett said. "We're moving forward."

    eBay representatives did not return calls seeking comment.

    With a self-imposed goal of reaching $3 billion in revenue by 2005, eBay has been trying to get big businesses to offer goods on its site. Already, companies such as IBM, Kodak and Home Depot sell products on eBay.

    Although eBay offers the opportunity for companies to get rid of extra inventory and returned goods at relatively high prices, selling through its online marketplace can be a daunting prospect. Not only do companies need to know how to list items on eBay, they also need to figure out pricing strategies and how to best communicate with often-demanding bidders. That's where Accenture's new service is supposed to come in.

    Auction-management companies such as ReturnBuy, ChannelAdvisor, AuctionWorks and Andale have been offering some or all of these types of business-oriented selling services for years. But eBay and Accenture hope that Accenture's connections to Fortune 500 companies, many of whom are clients of its consulting service, will attract more big names to eBay.

    "Where we've come in, and where eBay has positioned us, is with very large sellers and manufacturers," Hodgett said. Accenture is focusing on "$100 million and above companies looking to get on eBay. That's a very complex thing to do."

    Accenture started ramping up its service last month, tripling the number of listings it had managed during the venture's testing phase. The company now has more than 20 customers that are already listing on eBay or will begin listing on eBay in the next month or so, Hodgett said. He declined to name the companies but said they include a technology manufacturer and a "services company."

    Accenture is also coordinating a charity auction on eBay called "Bid for a Cure" to raise money to fight breast cancer, Hodgett said. Among the companies participating in Bid for a Cure are Self Magazine, Loews Cineplex Entertainment and

    Similar to competitors, Accenture charges customers a onetime set-up fee and then a transaction fee on each sale, Hodgett said. He declined to give the amount of either fee, saying only that the set-up fee was "an insignificant amount to most of these companies."

    Accenture has assigned about 80 employees to its Connection to eBay project, Hodgett said, mostly focused on technology and business development. In addition to helping companies list items on eBay, Connection to eBay will warehouse and distribute items for clients through a network of outsourced providers, he said.

    Big deal or big deal?
    Despite Accenture's high-profile deal with eBay, some of the company's competitors say they aren't impressed so far. AuctionWorks, which counts HomeDepot as one of its clients, has bumped into Accenture from time to time in courting new customers but doesn't know anyone who's decided to go with Accenture's service, said Paul Lundy, AuctionWorks' chief marketing officer.

    "We hear their name all the time," Lundy said. "We know that they are out there, but we haven't come into a competitive situation with them yet."

    Likewise, ChannelAdvisor, whose customers include IBM, Sears Roebuck and Pep Boys, hasn't felt particularly threatened by Accenture's entry into the marketplace, said Scot Wingo, ChannelAdvisor's chief executive officer. In doing some research on Accenture, ChannelAdvisor discovered that one of the clients of Connection to eBay is Accenture itself, Wingo said.

    "We're just glad these guys really haven't gotten their act together yet, except selling their own stuff," Wingo said.

    Accenture's Hodgett said he couldn't confirm or deny whether Accenture was one of Connection to eBay's customers.

    Hodgett did confirm that Accenture hasn't come into any competitive situations with other eBay service providers yet. But he attributed that to the size of the market. The company hypothesized that the market for excess and returned goods was about $80 billion and a significant portion of that was moving to eBay, Hodgett said.

    "That's been proved out," Hodgett said. In fact, he added, "there's a greater opportunity than we had anticipated."