Microsoft, Dell, others to challenge eBay

A high-tech US alliance, including Microsoft, Dell, Lycos, Excite@Home and nearly 100 other companies is preparing to take on online auction giant eBay, the lead companies have announced.

A network that combines items listed on each alliance member's auction site is being created by FairMarket, which currently oversees auction sites for Lycos, Dell and CompUSA. The network will be called the FairMarket Auction Network.

Rather than creating one mega-site, each site will remain independent. For example, a listing for a clock posted on the Lycos site will subsequently appear in the Microsoft auction site as well, the companies said in a statement.

The alliance, which the companies said has the potential to reach more than 46 million users, or almost three-quarters of all Internet users, offers each site global access, the companies said.

"Auctions have been a strategic focus for us and continue to be a cornerstone of our electronic commerce strategy, along with our classified ads," David Sze, senior vice president for strategy and network programming for Excite@Home, said in the statement. "With this relationship, we are bringing our users access to the biggest market of buying and selling personal goods available anywhere online or offline."

EBay has retained dominance in the online action market despite challenges from newly launched auction sites at Yahoo., Amazon.com and Microsoft's MSN. The auctioneer's well publicised recent technical problems, however, may have increased eBay's vulnerability.

By pooling its considerable resources, the new auction alliance hopes to match or beat eBay's nearly 3.5 million reserve of products for sale.

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