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Google readying retail play?

In a move that could put Google in competition with eBay and Craigslist, the Web search giant is planning to launch a service in Europe that would allow retailers to market their goods online, according to a report in Wednesday's edition of the Financial Times. The effort will utilize the mysterious Google Base service, which allows people to post any kind of information they want for free and to provide labels to describe it so others can easily find it.

The head of Google's European arm, Nikesh Arora, told the newspaper that Google wanted companies in retail to submit details of their goods and prices. Google would use the information to create a virtual supermarket across a number of retail brands for its users, according to the paper

"Google Base is going to have a huge impact on retailers," Arora told the paper, adding that the move was based on research that found many leading European retailers did not feel they were competitive enough online.

Google Base, which launched in beta in November 2005, allows people to post "all types of online and offline information and images" that will be searchable on Google Base and, depending on their relevance, may be searchable on Google Search, Froogle and Google Local. At the time, Google said it had no immediate plans to serve ads on the service.

Several observers speculated at the time that Google was targeting the online classifieds market space, specifically eBay and Craigslist, with the service, although a Google executive denied that that was the company's intent. A screenshot of a page for "Google Base" included examples of items that can be posted to Google's server: "description of your party planning service," "articles on current events from your Web site," "listing of your used car for sale" and "database of protein structures."

The company has been under pressure to develop new lines of revenue amid revelations that online-ad growth rates were slowing.