LibertyOne auction site goes live

Internet company LibertyOne has launched in an exclusive licensing arrangement with the US auction company to set up sites in Australia, New Zealand and the Asia- Pacific.

Simultaneously, News Interactive's GoFish went live as the first e-commerce offering from News Limited's Internet division.

Both sites will participate in an online auction market that Forrester Research predicts will be worth $US19 billion by 2003, compared to $US1.8 billion now in the US alone. `Launching this service in Australia has given uBid and LibertyOne first mover advantage in the business-to-consumer and business-to-business online space, and an enormous head start in the lead-up to our Asia-Pacific expansion,' said Chris Hitching, uBid's general manager, Australia and New Zealand.

But the latest online sites haven't hit the market without their fair share of hitches. The site experienced some early difficulties with several links experiencing problems with `the localising of the software', said Hitching. This resulted in about 18 hours of down time. `We've gone to market in remarkably quick time,' Hitching said. `Basically we wanted to get into the market by Christmas because from a retail perspective the fourth quarter is always the biggest.'uBid will avoid the consumer-to-consumer market, where players such as eBay and publishers Fairfax, News Corp and Publishing and Broadcasting Ltd already dominate, said Hitching.

`Two thirds of the market will be business to consumer in four years and we thought we could build something in that space.'uBid, launched in Australia, will expand into New Zealand early next year and eventually the Asia-Pacific region all under the umbrella of LibertyOne.

The auction site will focus on the sale of excess and end-of-line stock, such as computer equipment from IBM, Hewlett-Packard and Toshiba, as well as consumer electronics from Sony, Panasonic and Boston Acoustics. Sports and houseware will also be available. Hitching said uBid will offer 30 to 40 different products by Christmas, mostly in spaces that have done well on uBid's US site. `We are launching now because we wouldn't otherwise have time to learn what products will work and what don't. We'll expand again after we know that.'

Hitching argued that the auction model is suited to end-of-line stock because it is the customer who can tell uBid what the product is worth. `With new products, customers generally have an idea of what the value of the product is because they see it on retail shelves all the time.'

Hitching also said the excess stock model suited auction houses because it did not antagonise potential partners and suppliers by competing with existing channels. `If vendors thought we were competing with the likes of Harvey Norman they wouldn't deal with us. But because we actually free the traditional channel up to deal with new stock the channels complement each other.' The starting bid will be fixed at $9 but there will be no reserve price.

Hitching assured potential buyers that even though the site offers only excess and end-of-line stock, full warranties will be offered to both consumers and businesses purchasing off the site, which includes a 21 day money-back guarantee and customer support.

GoFish has a slightly different focus, divided into merchant and consumer sections. The merchant section auctions purely new merchandise, cars and collectibles, which are all under warranty. The consumer division is items listed by the general public and offers no safeguards.

On the bricks-and-mortar side of the business, GoFish guarantees payment processing and home delivery within seven days anywhere in Australia.

News Interactive also has plans to unveil several other online content and e-commerce businesses over the next six months.