June 14, 2006 3:05 am

Skype to make Ebay appearance

Ebay will next week take the first step towards integrating Skype into its e-commerce sites, as it attempts to prove the theory behind its controversial agreement to buy the internet voice service.

The online auction company justified the deal, worth up to $4.1bn, partly on the grounds that it would make direct communications between buyers and sellers on its auction and other e-commerce sites easier, removing part of the “friction” that prevents deals being closed and so adding to overall online buying.

Doubts about the value of the deal, however, have been one of the factors hanging over the company’s shares in recent months.

Meg Whitman, the company’s chief executive, said on Tuesday that Ebay would launch a pilot programme to test Skype with 14 categories of goods on its US site, starting Monday.

Ebay has already tried out Skype tests in a limited number of other countries, including China.

The news, coming at the start of the company’s annual user conference, signalled its first attempt at integration in the nine months since the Skype deal was agreed.

As part of its justification for buying Skype, Ebay has said that it expects eventually to be able to charge sellers for using voice calls over the internet to link them to buyers. However, the pilot announced on Tuesday will be free of charge, the company said.

Sellers will have the option of adding a “Skype Me” button when listing goods for sale, allowing buyers to start a voice or text conversation directly over the internet if they also have the Skype client software on their machines. The test will be limited to the US, where use of Skype is far less common than it is among internet users in parts of Europe and Asia.

Ebay said it would test the communications feature with various different types of product listed on its site, including high-value items such as real estate and cars, complex products such as networking routers and collectibles. Ebay has said it also aims eventually to test a “click-to-call” service, under which merchants would pay each time a potential customer clicked on a Skype button included in their online adverts.

Under its far-reaching alliance with Yahoo, announced last month, the company also hopes to integrate Skype into Yahoo websites, where it would sit alongside Yahoo’s own internet voice service.

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