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eBay testing buyer loyalty program in Germany

The program, to be offered at an annual fee, will include fast, free shipping and returns for buyers. It could be the start of another potential challenger to Amazon Prime.

The future of eBay may be eBay. eBay

Amazon Prime may be getting a little more competition.

Online retailer eBay plans to test a new buyer loyalty program in Germany called eBay+, starting in the second half of this year. In exchange for an annual membership fee, buyers will get new perks, including fast, free shipping and returns. EBay is currently trying out the program with "a select group of sellers," according to a company webpage.

An eBay representative in Germany on Thursday declined to provide more details on the service, which he described as "a local pilot." There's no indication for now that the program could be expanded beyond Germany.

While eBay+ is only a local project for now, it could be the start of yet another potential challenger for Amazon's own membership service, Prime. Amazon's service, which is $99 annually and includes free two-day shipping and a streaming video library, is a key part of the company's business, providing tens of millions of repeat customers. In addition to eBay's pilot, Walmart last week said it will test out a new unlimited shipping service this summer, pricing it at $50 yearly. Also, startup Jet.com, which hasn't officially launched its site, plans to offer a new marketplace for members.

An Amazon representative didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.

eBay's pilot could also be a way for the company to increase its relevance with customers, especially since it's splitting with its faster-growing mobile-payments business, PayPal, later this year. Still, a fast shipping program from eBay could be tricky, since the company -- unlike Amazon or Walmart -- doesn't have its own warehouses or stores for shipping goods. Independent sellers ship all products purchased on eBay instead.