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eBay gets boozy with wine site

The online marketplace hopes to become a bigger player in alcohol sales with eBay Wine.

Jill Clardy, Flickr Vision

When people think of wine, they might imagine California's Napa Valley or Italy's farmland, but almost certainly not eBay's website.

The giant marketplace, which includes 900 million listings of various items at any given time, wants to shift that vision. The company is seeking to become an online destination for your next purchase of pinot noir or chardonnay, along with the place to find eBay staples like handbags, smartphones and Beanie Babies.

On Wednesday, eBay unveiled a new US-based site called eBay Wine and a partnership with startup Drync to bring a broader selection of reds, whites and rosés to eBay's new online store.

"It's a great opportunity for eBay to harness the power of the marketplace to offer customers more selection and listings," Alyssa Steele, an eBay executive leading the wine effort, said in an interview.

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Getting tipsy and ordering more stuff online has never been easier.

eBay

The new site and section in eBay's mobile app will start with over 10,000 wines from around the world, with inventory expected to double in the first three months. That could help eBay provide a wider selection than Amazon's online wine store, which already includes thousands of listings. All wine sellers are vetted by eBay, and customers need to check each listing to see whether a particular seller can ship to their state.

eBay has actually been selling thousands of wines on its site for years. However, company executives would be the first to admit that eBay has done a poor job helping customers sift through its massive selection to find what they're looking for. That's where eBay Wine will come in, providing a layout, instead of a mess of listing pages, to help people search for regional favorites, specialty bundles or even specific wine glasses.

eBay is trying to become a more-structured storefront, like its rival Amazon, and less like a bazaar. As a result, eBay Wine may be the first of several new curated destination sites within eBay. CEO Devin Wenig hinted at this possibility during an earnings call Tuesday, saying people should "expect several exciting new category launches soon."

Amid heavy competition from Amazon, Walmart and a slew of e-commerce startups, eBay hopes sites like eBay Wine and its already-popular eBay Motors can goose revenue from its main marketplace business, which has been on a slow decline for the past year.

eBay's new wine push comes as online sales of beer, wine and liquor have been showing strong growth. The category has been slow to come to Internet shopping due to state regulations for shipping alcohol. Market researcher IbisWorld reported that online alcohol sales in the US reached $743 million last year, up 11 percent. Yet online alcohol sales remain a tiny niche of overall sales in the industry.

Drync CEO Brad Rosen sees the eBay deal, which will bring Drync's partnering retailers to eBay's new site, as an opportunity to change that situation.

"This launch of wine on eBay...is the pivotal moment when we'll see the mainstream e-commerce of wine," he said. "And I think that's huge, because it's one of the holdout industries to take advantage of the Internet."