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.com, Leslie Walker
EBay Gathering Puts Highs, Lows On Full Display


A New Orleans choir waved flags and marched out of the exhibit hall at the end of EBay chief executive Meg Whitman's keynote speech in New Orleans. (Leslie Walker - The Washington Post)

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By Leslie Walker
Thursday, July 1, 2004; Page E01


If you find eBay Inc.'s TV commercials quirky, you should see its convention.

The third annual get-together of eBay buyers and sellers, held here last weekend, featured palm and tarot card readers, a wedding of folks who met on eBay, a collectibles treasure hunt, how-to-auction seminars and -- this is "Nawlins," after all -- an earful of live jazz.

But what really got the attendees wasn't the gospel singers marching down the aisle in white robes at the end of chief executive Meg Whitman's speech, waving eBay flags and belting out "When the Saints Go Marching In."

No, it was the eBay staff, more than 700 strong, who lined the exhibit hall to greet attendees with whooping, hollering and applause as they strolled in for the Saturday night gala. For days afterward, eBay dealers were still chattering on the auction site's message boards about how moving they had found the tribute.

You've got to hand it to eBay's leaders: They know how to play the crowd. The San Jose, Calif., company dispatched more than 10 percent of its 6,500 employees to the convention center to give 10,000 conference-goers a chance to connect with those who mind their auctions behind the computer screen.

It announced some new services for dealers, including a deal with GE Consumer Finance allowing sellers to offer installment credit to auction buyers through PayPal, eBay's electronic payment service. Also unveiled was software to help the 8,000 independent developers who create programs for eBay.

And Whitman said eBay had coughed up $11 million over the past year to fight fraud, including a new toolbar users can download to make sure they are transacting with eBay, rather than with a spoof site in Russia.

EBay "power seller" Mark Anthony, from Phoenix, strolls the show floor in his custom EBay hat. (Leslie Walker - The Washington Post)
Yet eBay is experiencing other kinds of growing pains as it turns nine years old this year. Those, too, were on display as staffers fielded questions and complaints from the crowd of mostly sellers.

Dealers groused about a new billing system that went haywire two months ago, presenting many bills twice. Others fumed that eBay is too quick to take down auctions when any well-known manufacturer complains about how its brand name appears in items listed for sale. Still others said it was time eBay gave its high-volume dealers a break on auction fees, which have risen over the years.

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