Amazon.com is going after online auction giant eBay just in time for the big holiday shopping season.
Amazon launched its "Make an Offer" feature today, allowing shoppers to negotiate lower prices on what it says will be 150,000 items offered by independent, third-party sellers. They offer a variety of new, used, refurbished, and collectible merchandise on Amazon's site.
On its first day, the Make an Offer feature will let people negotiate a price on an Indiana State Sycamores signed basketball, a bicycle headlight and makeup kits.
"The new Make an Offer experience is a game-changer for Amazon customers looking for great prices on one-of-a-kind items, and for sellers looking to communicate and negotiate directly with customers in an online marketplace environment just like they do normally in their own physical store or gallery," Peter Faricy, vice president for Amazon Marketplace, said in a statement. "In a recent survey of our sellers, nearly half of the respondents told us that the ability to negotiate prices with customers would be important to drive more sales on Amazon."
Sellers can enable the Make an Offer feature for anything they sell on the site, signaling to shoppers that they're willing to negotiate for a lower price than what's listed. Customers simply can enter a new price and begin bargaining via email.
Amazon noted that the ability to negotiate does not make the sale an auction, since the negotiation takes place one-on-one between the seller and potential buyer.
However, the ability to negotiate puts Amazon in line to compete with online auction house eBay.
Though eBay has gotten into the business of straight-up sales, it's still largely an auction site -- both for business-to-consumer sales and for consumer-to-consumer sales.
"Amazon is being squarely eBay competitive," said Zeus Kerravala, an analyst with ZK Research. "Amazon is huge and successful, but this does create another way to sell. Right now, if customers want to buy something quickly, they go to Amazon. If they want to shop and try and get a deal, they go to eBay. Now Amazon can offer both, making them the de facto standard for anything people want to buy."
Patrick Moorhead, an analyst with Moor Insights & Strategy, said eBay and Amazon have been in each other's crosshairs for a while now and this will increase the competition.
"Amazon wants to be the place to buy anything in every way possible," said Moorhead. "eBay offers 'buy now,' which is like Amazon. Amazon will now get into eBay's business.
"I don't like Amazon's move," he said. "The problem with moving into too many things is that you run the risk of losing your brand essence. Losing your brand essence means consumers get confused on when to turn to you."