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eBay service lets sellers offer expertise

The Internet auction company launches a new database that lists customers who are willing to sell goods for others--for a fee.

eBay is offering a new service to customers looking to cash in on their selling experience.

Last week, the online auction giant launched a new database that lists customers who are willing to sell goods for others--for a fee. The service lists sellers--who must meet certain feedback and listing criteria--by area code, state and country. The "Trading Assistants" program, as it's known, already lists more than 200 sellers.

"Many sellers already do this as a way of making money on eBay and as a fun way to serve the eBay community," eBay told users on its announcements board. "If you are an experienced eBay seller, we encourage you to join the Trading Assistants Directory and get paid by others to leverage your eBay selling expertise."

eBay representatives did not return calls seeking comment.

With a goal of reaching $3 billion in revenue by 2005, eBay has been taking a number of steps to increase listings and draw new sellers to its site. The San Jose, Calif.-based company has been actively courting big businesses, such as IBM, to list items on its site.

But as eBay has grown and offered more services, the process of selling items on the site has become increasingly complex. eBay moved recently to streamline the listing process, but many of its regular sellers still find the process time-consuming and frustrating.

Several companies make a business out of selling for others on eBay. ChannelAdvisor, for instance, helps clients such as Kodak list items on eBay, helping design advertisements and directing where and when items will be listed, but it doesn't actually handle inventory. Meanwhile, companies such as MoonBuzz and eBay-backed ReturnBuy go even further, not only taking inventory, but sometimes buying the inventory outright from other companies before selling it on eBay.

eBay requires sellers who want to be listed by its Trading Assistant service to have a feedback rating of at least 49, with at least 97 percent of their feedback comments positive. The feedback rating is based on the total number of positive comments from individual eBay customers minus the total number of negative comments received. eBay also requires Trading Assistant members to have sold at least one item in the past 30 days.

Sellers listed by Trading Assistants can set their own rates for selling items for other people. In information posted on the site, sellers indicated that they plan to charge a commission for the sales of 10 percent to 50 percent, depending on the value of the item sold.

Because items will be listed under their user IDs, Trading Assistant members will be responsible for all eBay fees, although they can pass such costs on to their customers.

For now eBay is not charging to list sellers in the Trading Assistants database, but it left the door open for future charges.

"For now the program is free and while we do reserve the right to charge for it someday there are no plans in the foreseeable future to charge for inclusion in the directory," the company said in a list of frequently asked questions about the program. "If we do decide to charge, all Trading Assistants will be notified in advance so they can remove themselves from the directory before any fees accrue."

Heidi Hoerner, a full-time eBay seller, said she's excited about the program. Since she added her name to the Trading Assistant database last week, she's received seven calls from potential customers, including an importer who's interested in having her sell 5,000 to 10,000 items per month.

"I posted my number up there, posted my information, and immediately the phone rang," said Hoerner. "It looks like everything's going to be good."