When the rumors of a possible eBay acquisition of Skype started popping up last September, the idea seemed so outside the realm of possibility that it was tempting to dismiss it out of hand. After a relatively brief courtship, eBay and Skype walked down the aisle, with the online auction giant paying a US$2.6 billion dowry. We figured there would be some sort of integration of Skype into eBay, likely in the form of a "click to call" option on some auctions.
Say hello to "Skype Me." Beginning on June 19, eBay will start piloting the program on selected auctions, allowing prospective bidders to contact sellers about an auction. There is no charge for Skype Me, which adds another dimension to the often-used "Ask seller a question" feature.
Initially, Skype Me will be available for 14 different categories that eBay has identified as likely to benefit from instantaneous communications. Those include coins, vehicles, jewelry, and property listings, among others. Note the common thread: all of those categories cover items that can potentially be very costly. Being able to place a call from one’s PC and ask questions while looking at an auction might remove much of the hesitation some users experience when faced with bidding on a pricy item.
eBay has also announced the creation of an eBay Wiki. Hosted by JotSpot, the wiki will be a user-driven repository of information about the site. Unlike Skype Me, the eBay Wiki will be be available to all users (most of whom probably have no idea what a wiki is).
The auction site already maintains a rather dense "Help" site along with a member-to-member Answer Center. Apparently, the wiki will supplement the already-existing customer support sites. The hope is that eBay users will be able to build a comprehensive wiki capable of providing users with all the answers and support they need. That would in turn reduce eBay’s customer service and other support costs.
Both of the new features are interesting. As a coin collector who occasionally bids on eBay coin auctions, having the ability to call the seller about a particular coin might entice me to bid on a coin that I would otherwise pass up. On the other hand, there’s no trail of records with a phone call. That could end up complicating the dispute resolution process.
An eBay wiki—if widely used by the community—could prove to be a valuable resource as well. Much of that will depend on how much of a hands-off approach eBay takes to the wiki. Will bidders be able to share information about shady sellers or misrepresented products? This is a particular issue with the coin collecting community, which has to deal with shady grading services that are scorned by serious collectors. The bad grading services artificially inflate a coin’s grade and value and then flood eBay with auctions for coins that are worth no more than face value, or at most, far less than the grade on the coin would indicate. If eBay steps back and allows this to be truly a community-driven wiki, it could be a huge benefit to the user community. Whether the online auctioneer will be able to take a hands-off approach is another matter entirely.