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eBay offers insurance to power sellers

In a bid to increase the number of people who sell items full time on eBay, the online auction company will offer them group health insurance.

In a bid to increase the number of people who sell items full time on eBay, the online auction company will offer them group health insurance.

So-called power sellers, those who average a certain amount in monthly sales, are the backbone of eBay's auction business, CEO Meg Whitman said this weekend at eBay Live, the company's first conference aimed at the site's users.

"Many power sellers are self-employed eBay merchants. Sometimes it's both husband and wife," she said. "That leaves our family entrepreneurs at a serious disadvantage when it comes to acquiring health care coverage for their families."

Starting this fall, the San Jose, Calif.-based company will allow power sellers to acquire health care coverage, including dental, vision and pharmacy, through a deal eBay has struck with Physicians Mutual.

eBay has lowered to $1,000 the monthly volume of sales required for someone to join the power sellers programs. The company also has added two new levels of power sellers--"platinum" and "titanium," the latter category for those who sell more than $150,000 per month over the site. Those sellers will also be invited to an executive retreat with eBay staff.

Power sellers will get other benefits as well, including dedicated customer-support, a discount subscription package for eBay services, free customizable letterhead and business card design, and quarterly newsletters.

Whitman also announced that the company is expanding its fixed-price sales options. Currently, eBay allows auctions to include a "buy it now" feature through which a bidder can halt an auction by agreeing to pay a preset price.

The new fixed-price option, which will start in July, works just like a regular store, with no auction involved. Sellers will also be able to list multiple quantities of the same product at the same price.

eBay first tested its "buy it now" feature in 2000 and gave the format more of a workout when it acquired retailer Half.com.

The new feature could pull in bigger customers, analysts said.

"We believe that this functionality will be especially attractive to high volume buyers and sellers seeking to transact online on a greater scale," Deutsche Bank analyst Jeetil Patel wrote in a research note. "As such, we believe that the new fixed-price format could draw in new users from both sides of the transaction, thus driving growth."