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eBay mulls fixed-price auctions

The customer survey is a further indication that eBay wants to move beyond its core business of person-to-person auctions.

eBay has been surveying user reaction to sales of fixed-price items on its site, in a further indication that the leading auction site is looking to move beyond its core business of person-to-person auctions.

If eBay were to add fixed-price auctions--in which the seller sets a minimum price and the first bidder to top it wins--it would follow the lead of AuctionUniverse, a smaller competitor. Last month, AuctionUniverse launched a new type of listing known as "FirstBid Wins" for those who want to sell quickly at a specific price rather than wait for an auction to close. Often, those sellers are businesses who want the exposure that a popular site brings but aren't willing to auction items below retail prices.

Although eBay has registered more than 2 million users on the strength of its person-to-person auction format, new competitors like Amazon.com are making a bigger play for the business-to-consumer market, where consumers bid on items from retailers rather than individuals. According to Forrester Research, within a few years business-to-consumer transactions will dwarf the person-to-person auction market.

Earlier this week, eBay sent out a survey to certain users about fixed-price auctions, and also asked if they would be in favor of adding retailers to the site and allowing them, as well as individual sellers, to set up storefronts that would pull together multiple listings.

eBay spokesman Kevin Pursglove said the company has no plans yet to add fixed-price auctions. The survey "just gives us a sense of how users feel about the issue," he said.

The profitable auction site certainly has the capital to expand into new lines of business, and is looking around for new opportunities. Earlier this week, eBay completed a $1.1 billion secondary offering, the largest Internet stock offering ever. Earlier this week, eBay and San Francisco auction house Butterfield & Butterfield announced a plan to create a new category for high-level art and antique auctions on the eBay site.

eBay's most formidable competitor, Amazon Auctions doesn't list fixed-price auctions, the site has aggressively courted merchants who want to sell some of their merchandise in an auction format. The site was launched with more than 100 charter merchants, whose listings are mixed in individuals' listings.