November 14, 2001 2:30 PM PST

eBay CEO toasts Comdex crowd

LAS VEGAS--eBay Chief Executive Meg Whitman used her Comdex Fall 2001 keynote speech to toast the company's newest category: wine.

eBay relaunched the category last week on a trial basis in association with partners New Vine Logistics and Winetasting.com.

"We think it's a big market; we think it's a fun market," Whitman told the Comdex crowd. "I think you might be some of our best, first customers."

eBay is only the latest online company to try to cash in on the wine market, which is worth billions of dollars in sales. Despite the potential of the market, several high-profile start-ups such as Wine.com and Amazon.com-backed Wineshopper.com have gone out of business trying to navigate the myriad legal regulations.

It's a return to alcohol sales for eBay, which two years ago banned sales of beer, wine and other alcoholic beverages. At the time, the company attributed the ban to the complications of selling and shipping alcoholic beverages across state lines.

As part of the test of its resurrected wine category, eBay will list only sellers that are preapproved and licensed to distribute wine. The company's two partners will help buyers arrange for legal shipment of wines sold. Because of legal regulations, neither partner will ship to customers in more than 30 states.

eBay, which has not said how long it will test the wine category, has about 213 items listed in its wine category, including wine racks, bottle stoppers, and a 1986 Monticello cabernet sauvignon.

Whitman, who said she was making her first trip to the world's largest tech trade show, was on a mission to recruit more business customers to sell their tech wares on eBay's site. In a video, Palm Senior Vice President Ken Wirt talked about how the company started selling refurbished goods through eBay after noticing that there were already thousands of handheld computers being sold each day on the site.

"It wasn't so much creating a new market as tapping an existing one," Wirt said. Sales started slow but are growing, he added.

Although eBay is not often thought of as a PC retailer, Whitman said the company sells 2,000 PCs a day and is on track to sell $1.4 billion worth of computers and electronics gear in the United States this year. Of that, 40 percent are new products, 46 percent used, and 14 percent refurbished goods.

see tech trends: CNET.com: What's hot, and not, at Comdex During her speech, Whitman also addressed the recent uproar over its new checkout feature, saying that while it was popular with many buyers and sellers, some sellers were "not enthusiastic to say the least."

So, she said, after listening to the eBay community, the company made the feature optional.

That drew a round of applause from some of those unhappy sellers who were in the crowd.

News.com's Troy Wolverton contributed to this report.

 

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