EBay integrates Skype into auctions

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After months of anticipation, eBay announced tonight its pilot integration of Skype, the internet telephony giant it acquired last September for approximately $4.1 billion. The announcement was made tonight at eBay Live!, eBay’s annual community conference.

Beginning June 19th, US eBay sellers will have the option of adding a SkypeMe button to individual item listings in 14 select categories. Prospective buyers will then be able to contact the sellers by voice or instant messaging. Users can currently add a SkypeMe button to their personal profile, but not to individual items for sale.

The categories included in the pilot project will be:

  • Automotive GPS devices
  • Camera and photo lenses and filters
  • Wired networking routers
  • Skype devices
  • VOIP / Internet telephony
  • Diamond solitaire rings
  • Real estate (residential, commercial)
  • Manufacturing and metalworking
  • Beds
  • NBA basketball cards
  • Silver coins
  • Lost in Space collectibles
  • Radio control toys
  • Cars and trucks

The categories above were selected because eBay believes that instant communication of such goods would help sales, the items are complex or local delivery is required.

The Skype acquisition and its price have been widely questioned since last September. If this pilot integration anywhere near as successful as the 2002 acquisition of PayPal has been then most of those questions may be put to rest.

Whether sellers will welcome voice or IM contact from prospective customers remains to be seen. A more sophisticated offering enabling users to, for example, select only IM or IM and voice contact, or a permission request process letting sellers see a user’s eBay reputation before accepting a call would have been a good thing to see.

Some observers warn that enabling voice communication via Skype will only make transactions easier to complete outside of eBay auctions, thus cutting into the company’s monetization of transactions.

Last week’s announcement of eBay’s new hosted blogs quickly proved interesting when some sellers put their blogs to use in building their reputations by educating prospective buyers in subjects related to their eBay stores. A similar use of auction-specific Skype communication could emerge and prove eBay better at leveraging high-profile acquisitions than other big web players seem to have.

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