Auction services company Andale is branching out.
The Mountain View, Calif.-based company plans to release a new version of its software next month that will go beyond helping sellers manage their online auctions. It will help them sell on a variety of sites, from their own Web sites to storefronts such as those on Yahoo or on eBay.
As eBay has grown more popular, prices have fallen and sellers have been looking for ways to increase sales, Andale Chief Executive Munjal Shah said. The new software should help sellers by pointing their customers to other products they offer and other venues where they are selling their wares, he said.
"One lesson that came out of e-tailing was that you have to sell through more than one channel," Shah said. "All successful merchants are going to have a multichannel approach."
Online selling by small businesses has evolved from the days of mom-and-pops offering beanie babies for auction on eBay. Earlier this week, eBay opened its new storefronts to sellers, allowing them to list items at fixed prices. Among the early stores represented were IBM and the Hard Rock Cafe.
eBay's storefronts join earlier efforts by Andale, AuctionWatch and Yahoo. eBay also operates Half.com. Like Amazon's Marketplace, which also debuted last year, Half.com allows small sellers to offer used and collectible goods at discount prices.
The software Andale offers now lets sellers list goods on auction sites such as eBay and on Andale's own storefronts. The new software, code-named "Freedom," will help sellers list items on eBay's storefronts and on sellers' own Web sites. The software will also allow sellers to send customers Web-based e-mail through which customers can make purchases.
The Freedom software, which Andale will launch by July 4, will combine all of a seller's inventory into one database. The software will also allow sellers to see which of their items are selling best on each venue, which will give them the option of adjusting their listings accordingly.
By making it easier to list and manage multiple items or auctions on several different sites, the software should attract more sellers to eBay and other sites and should encourage them to list more items, said Jared Blank, a digital commerce analyst with New York-based Jupiter Media Metrix. Since both eBay and Andale take a commission on both listings and sales made through their sites, both should benefit from an increase in sellers, Blank said.
"Is it going change the world? No," Blank said. "But it will make selling easier for small businesses who use the product, which is always a good thing."
Chris Langley owns 1overpar.com, which sells used and outdated golf clubs on eBay and through its site. The Greenville, N.C.-based company lists some 1,000 auctions a week and turned to Andale because it needed an easy way to automate not only listings but communication with customers as well.
Langley said he is excited about Andale's new service because he thinks it will help him sell additional products to customers that he would not have been able to auction off. For instance, in an e-mail to his auction customers, he might be able to easily offer a golf shirt or a set of golf balls on top of the golf clubs they purchase.
"We're definitely going to be taking advantage of that," Langley said.
Despite its advantages, Andale's new software faces a number of challenges, said Gartner e-commerce analyst Whit Andrews. Although selling through multiple venues and formats will be a big advantage for small businesses, convincing them of that could take some time, he said. Many sellers, for instance, are dedicated to just selling on eBay or only selling through Amazon Auctions.
Meanwhile, with literally millions of small businesses in the United States, it will take a great deal of time and money for a relatively unknown company like Andale to establish themselves as the online tool of choice for those businesses, Andrews said. And Andale could face more formidable competition in the future; Microsoft has been edging closer toward the auction management areas with its bCentral Web site.
"You're talking about an enormous number of entrepreneurs and small enterprises," Andrews said. "Reaching them and penetrating that market is going to be an extremely difficult task."
Andale competes against companies such as AuctionWatch and GoTo Auctions, both of which are also trying to evolve their services. GoTo Auctions, for instance, in January launched its Channel Fusion product, which helps large-scale sellers such as Sun Microsystems list items for auction and interact with their online customers.