Bidder's Edge joins AuctionWatch, which had its own highly publicized battle with eBay, as well as a host of smaller auction service sites. Bidder's Edge chief executive James Carney said that when his company stopped searching eBay, his understanding was that Bidder's Edge would not be at a disadvantage because eBay planned to shut off access to the other search sites.
"That never really happened," Carney said.
eBay isn't happy with the development. "We disapprove, no doubt about it," said company spokesman Kevin Pursglove.
Despite dominating the online auction industry with about 70 percent of the market according to Gomez Advisors, eBay is something of a company under seige lately, seeing growing competition from well-funded players. Just today, adult entertainment company Playboy announced plans to enter the online auction market, and last month the Go Network set up its own auction house. Meanwhile, in September, the Microsoft Network joined a coalition of sites including Excite@Home to share auction listings.
Potential to be big
Bidder's Edge and AuctionWatch don't match the size or strength of the other auction players. But they have the potential to become auction portals, acting as one-stop resources for auction users, allowing sellers to list their auctions en masse and permitting bidders to search for auctions across a spectrum of sites.
Most of the auction search engines, including Bidder's Edge's, provide eBay's listings side-by-side with those of Yahoo, Amazon.com, and other auction sites, allowing bidders to compare not only offerings, but the price of the items. Carney speculates that eBay is worried that sites like Bidder's Edge will drive auction bidders to its competitors.
"If you are in an almost monopolistic position, you prefer not to let anybody know about any other site other than your own," Carney said. "They obviously think a dumb consumer is the best one."
But eBay spokesman Kevin Pursglove said the company is chiefly concerned with the experience of its users, who he said are not getting the full eBay experience through these outside sites. Pursglove accused sites like Bidder's Edge of getting a free ride from eBay by trespassing on the site, using the eBay's listing information without its authorization, and selling advertising on their search pages.
"We've worked hard and invested to provide a successful business," Pursglove said. "We don't think that these other companies should be given a free ride."
Litany of problems
In the past, eBay has given reasons for prohibiting the searches, saying that they tax its systems, slowing bidding and selling for its customers, provide often inaccurate and incomplete information on its auctions, and are a violation of its intellectual property as well as its user agreement.
Legal experts have questioned eBay's objections, saying that the company has little to stand on legally to prevent the searches.
The brouhaha over the auction searches started in late August, when eBay contacted Bidder's Edge and several other auction sites, asking them to cease searching its listings. Bidder's Edge was one of the first to comply with eBay's demands.
Last month, AuctionWatch launched a search feature that combed eBay's listings, despite the company's opposition. Since then, AuctionWatch and eBay have negotiated over the search feature, and Pursglove said eBay is willing to discuss the issue with the other auction service sites, including Bidder's Edge.
"We remain very much willing to talk with these sites and work out a satisfactory agreement for both parties, under terms that both parties agree to, and which are contractually binding," Pursglove said.
AuctionWatch chief executive Rodrigo Sales said he was surprised that Bidder's Edge had resumed its search, saying that his company had shown "leadership" in standing up to eBay. But Sales welcomed Bidder's Edge back.
"I think their re-entering the game is a positive move for the consumer and for the industry as a whole," he said.