Alibaba and the eBay Thieves
Two rivals of eBay came to Las Vegas to do guerilla marketing during eBay's user convention, but only one got real up close and personal with eBay.
That was Alibaba.com Corp., the parent of eBay's main auction rival in China, Taobao.
Alibaba set up shop inside a restaurant at the Mandalay Bay resort, where the eBay convention was held, and offered free lunch to eBay sellers who stopped by to learn about Alibaba's products.
Several eBay employees entered the restaurant and tried to persuade the manager to kick out the Alibaba team, offering to pay the restaurant more than Alibaba, according to Alibaba employees and a bystander who witnessed the conversation.
While the restaurant did not take eBay up on the offer, the hotel insisted that Alibaba take down its signs beside the restaurant entrance inviting eBay sellers to come inside, said Alibaba Vice President Porter Erisman. Word of mouth, however, brought plenty of sellers into the large basement area where Alibaba offered speeches, food and demonstrations, including a "Trade or No Trade" game mimicking the "Deal or No Deal" TV game show.
Alibaba took a more aggressive marketing tactic here than eBay's other rival, Overstock.com, which wooed eBay sellers from a respectable distance at a different hotel.
But Erisman said that unlike Overstock, Alibaba was not promoting its Internet auction site, Taobao, or any product competing with eBay. Rather, he said the company came to market Alibaba.com, a Web site that offers a service that could help boost trade on eBay. The site provides an online directory of Chinese suppliers that produce goods that eBay sellers can import for sale in the U.S.
"We are spending a quarter of a million dollars here to promote ourselves, and we are not talking about anything that competes with eBay," Erisman said.
Bill Cobb, president of eBay North America, said Alibaba is a rival and that eBay had negotiated with the hotel to make sure Alibaba was not allowed to do any marketing in the hallways of the convention area, which eBay had rented.
But it all seemed especially funny, considering Yahoo owns a 40 percent stake in Alibaba Corp. and Alibaba runs the Yahoo China business. Just last month, eBay announced a major strategic partnership with Yahoo that calls for Yahoo and eBay to cross-market each other's products.
Those, however, apparently do not include Alibaba, which must have least-favored-rival status with eBay.
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