Consumer portals Yahoo and America Online (AOL) have both announced plans to create online business-to-business (B2B) markets.
The move follows last week's launch of a B2B facility for small businesses by online auction company eBay.
Yahoo has launched B2B Marketplace on its US website initially with plans to extend the service to international sites in the future. The company said it intends to pull together different trading communities to enable users to compare prices and keep up to date with new offerings.
The site will boast 48,000 listings across 650 categories and Yahoo has signed deals with seven trading websites, including Freemarkets.com's AssetExchange, which trades industrial parts and raw materials, and Inmark.com, which specialises in used equipment.
Brian Fitzgerald, the producer of Yahoo's B2B Marketplace, said the site enables buyers from businesses of all sizes to sift through many different trading communities and make sense of the disparate information.
"B2B Marketplace allows businesses to get a good picture of the landscape and see everything through one channel," he said.
While he admitted that it may be difficult for Yahoo's customers to compare prices in real time for some items, particularly if sites do not list prices or changed them frequently, he said the site would provide them with links to partners' updated pricing information.
Yahoo will provide users with alerts about time-sensitive auctions and access to related industry news to try to keep them on the site for longer. It will also enable users to email lists to colleagues.
AOL's B2B plans include a strategic three-year deal with services company PurchasePro.com to jointly develop a business exchange for users across its AOL, AOL.com, Compuserve and Netscape Netcenter websites.
Customers will be able to trade goods across multiple vertical and horizontal business markets, and the site is expected to start operating by the end of the second quarter.
But Charles King, an analyst at Zona Research, warned: "When huge B2C players such as Yahoo and AOL find a bit of B2B religion and move decisively into the market, the resulting waves may swamp some smaller participants."
Separately, Yahoo has extended its range of services for users of wireless application protocol-based wireless devices to include auctions, films and directories. It already provides users with access to email, sports, weather and horoscope services.
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