Ricardo.ch, the dominant consumer-to-consumer auction platform in Switzerland owned by MIH Internet Europe, has decided to open its virtual shop doors to professional sellers and extend its offering to fixed-price selling. 

Its first step in that direction, will be an automobile platform. On January 21, 2008 it will launch a “specially-developed auto portal” (Auto.ricardo.ch), aimed at both the professional and private seller. It will also give sellers the choice of selling per auction, or per fixed price. 

Later this year Ricardo.ch will take the next step in the direction of becoming an online marketplace for both professional sellers and private sellers, when it will launch a shop where only new products will be sold at fixed prices by professional sellers. It is not yet known what the shop will be called. 

MIH Internet Europe already operates a shop with new goods in Germany (Ricardo24.de). Until now this shop, focused on providing comparative prices, has been a low profile operation. 

With this decision, Ricardo.ch follows in the footsteps of its big rival EBay Germany, which has been running Mobile.de, one of Germany’s leading auto portals, in close cooperation with the EBay auction platform for years, and experimented with a fixed-price shop for new goods until recently. It is, perhaps, not surprising that Ricardo.ch, which has been under the leadership of Heiner Kroke since the middle of last year, would follow EBay’s lead – Kroke was a senior manager at EBay Germany and CEO of the successful small ads subsidiary Kijiji.de, before joining Ricardo.ch as CEO. 

As part of a global restructuring, EBay Inc. announced late last year it would sharpen its focus on the business-to-consumer market in Europe, bought two classified portals in Denmark (Dba.dk and Bilbasen.de) and said it would be making more acquisitions in Scandinavia and eastern Europe “in the near future”. 

Ricardo.ch’s decision to open its doors to professional sellers, could be seen as MIH Internet Europe’s first response to the increased engagement of its rival EBay in Europe. MIH Internet Europe operates auction platforms in 13 EU countries – in western Europe under the Ricardo brand and in eastern Europe under the Allegro brand. Ricardo.ch’s decision to widen its focus to include business-to-consumer might well be copied by Ricardo portals in other countries in western Europe, as well as by Allegro portals in eastern Europe. 

The new direction was announced on the occasion of Ricardo.ch’s 10th birthday celebration in Switzerland earlier this month, when a confident Kroke said he expected the turnover of the auto portal to grow by 47 percent and Ricardo.ch’s total turnover to grow by 26 percent this year. 

All in all, Kroke was surprisingly forthcoming with statistics (for a CEO of a non-listed Internet business). He said Ricardo held an astounding 86.7 percent of the Swiss auction market in 2008, when Ricardo’s turnover topped 600 million Swiss Franks, with a gross margin of 30 percent. Of that amount, 235 million Swiss Franks (almost 40 percent) was contributed by its auto and auto accessories division. Ricardo.ch’s registered members grew to 1.73 million and on average 500,000 offers were made daily on the portal in 2008, he said. 

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