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eBay steps into E.Europe with Polish site

Web marketplace eBay launched a Polish domestic service on Friday, hoping to take advantage of fast-growing e-commerce trading in the European Union's biggest newcomer economy.

Poland is set to enjoy economic growth double its richer neighbours in coming years but its 10 million Internet users still represent only 27 percent of the population, leaving room for rapid expansion.

User numbers for the country's existing Polish language auction sites has grown 50 percent annually over the last 5 years to more than 3 million.

"Now is the right time to come to Poland," European chief Philipp Justus told a news conference. "The scale of use of the Internet in Poland is growing at a phenomenal pace, so we are sure that the eBay community will grow quickly."

Justus said the company has no plans for now to launch sites in other eastern European states, but would hope to use the Polish language operation as a try-out in the region.

"It is our first step into the new EU members and we will learn a lot that we can use later," he said.

The company hopes to face down well-established local competitor Allegro by waiving the transaction charges which generate most of its income, and will have to swallow the cost of operations until it can build a local customer base.

eBay already has 100,000 users in Poland for U.S. and its other foreign sites, but locally is dwarfed by Allegro, which had 2.5 million users and 830 million zlotys in sales last year, 80 percent of the whole market.

It also faces competition from a series of other smaller local rivals, and Justus and other managers struggled to convince a news conference packed with journalists from Poland's e-press that the service would hit the spot with consumers.

"Our users are very disappointed," said Magdalena Gorak from Internet news portal Internet Standard. "They had hoped for access to eBay's international Paypal system and instead they're getting the same thing we had already."

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