eBay has launched a preview version of eBay Express, a site that is more conventional than its online marketplace and that the company's largest and most experienced merchants were eagerly awaiting.

eBay Express, announced in January, is now online in a preliminary format, the company announced yesterday. During this preview period, which will last several weeks, eBay will gather feedback from buyers and sellers and make adjustments, eBay said.

With eBay Express, the company wants to cater for buyers who aren't big fans of eBay's marketplace, where shopping can be riskier, more complicated and more time-consuming than on a regular online store such as Amazon's.

If the site meets expectations, it will reward eBay's biggest and best merchants, which increasingly have competing selling platforms at their disposal and who have clashed with eBay over fee increases.

Adam Hersh, founder and president of Adam Hersh Auctions, reviewed eBay Express this weekend and made a purchase to test the checkout process. "It looks phenomenal. It's extremely smooth. I like the user interface and the checkout is very easy and fast," Hersh said.

Still, Hersh, who began selling on eBay about eight years ago and specialises in movie posters and memorabilia, will not post his items on eBay Express at least until he gathers feedback from peers on best practices for listing products there.

eBay expects that the site will allow it to expand its business by extending its appeal to a new type of shopper, at a time when Wall Street often becomes sceptical about the company's ability to sustain a healthy revenue growth.

eBay Express arrives when eBay is reportedly feeling threatened by Google's recent launch of a service that lets sellers list items and buyers pay for them online. A Wall Street Journal story published last week cited anonymous sources saying eBay is seeking to team up with either Microsoft or Yahoo to better battle Google.

The shopping experience on eBay Express will be different from the company's core marketplace in several keys ways. For example, items on eBay Express will be mostly new and have fixed prices, whereas the eBay marketplace includes used products sold via auctions.

In addition, eBay Express will feature only items from eBay sellers with the best ratings and with considerable experience, thus guaranteeing shoppers that they will not be dealing with novices.

And for the first time in its history, eBay will offer buyers a shopping cart where they can put items from multiple sellers and pay for them in a single checkout transaction. Buyers can pay with a credit card or using eBay's PayPal online payment system.

In another first, eBay will extend its purchase protection to all items on the site, guaranteeing buyers they will recover their money if the items they purchase aren't delivered as promised.

Moreover, eBay Express has a search engine that ranks results based on relevance and adjusts its query-resolution process based on a buyer's prior usage.

eBay merchants who qualify will automatically have their items show up on Express, as long as those items belong in categories featured on the site. If they don't want their items on Express, they can opt out. For now, Express is only for the US market.