February 13, 1997 5:00 PM PST

Going once...sold on AuctionWeb

Forget about the CD-ROMs--the Barbie doll is bigger than ever online. In yet another indication that online auctions are taking off, AuctionWeb is reporting that someone bought a Barbie for $7,999.

Perhaps it was her pink outfit, or maybe her brown hair or her name: the 1959 "Suburban Shopper." Most probably it was her rarity that led to her purchase. Whatever the reason, Jeff Skoll, president of AuctionWeb, is pretty clear about the meaning: big business.

The rapidly growing AuctionWeb is one of many Web sites trying to cash in on the obvious market potential of reaching out to the world to sell goods. While many sites boast online classified ads, Auction sites offer the promise of sellers getting more money through competitive bidding. A quick Net search, for instance, revealed dozens of sites auctioning goods online.

"It's kind of an online classified ad, but via an auction," Skoll said. "In the past, if you wanted to buy and sell something, it was somewhat inefficient. You had to take out a newspaper ad. What the Web does is it aggregates all of these eyeballs from distinct places so your goods will truly reach their market value."

And as the items reach their market value, AuctionWeb gets a cut. It charges between 25 cents to $2 for the listing and then takes a 5 percent commission up to $25 and 2.5 percent thereafter. With 2,000 new items listed every day, that's a fair chunk of change. Skoll says AuctionWeb does about $3 million in sales a month.

While the average item sells for about $30, occasionally someone will log onto the site and offer up a big ticket item, such as the Barbie. In this case, the original owner was asking for $2,000.

Of course, unlike an auction house, buyers and sellers are responsible for trading merchandise for money.

Although one might think that would open the door for cheating, Skoll said most people are honest. If they aren't, the "community" will let the world know through online bulletin boards.

 

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