It will allow SMEs to build sites (with e-commerce capability) that are separate from the eBay universe. Of course they easily integrate with eBay (and PayPal).
From the release:
ProStores offers four tiers of e-commerce packages, starting at just $6.95 per month with fees ranging from 0.5% to 1.5% per successful transaction. Each tier enables merchants to set up a complete Web store, including shopping carts with secure checkout and shipping integration with major shippers. Larger enterprises will benefit from integrated supply-chain inventory management and advanced merchandising options.
ProStores comes out of eBay's acquisition of Kurant Corp.'s technology. It pits eBay against Yahoo!, Interland and the rest of the SME Web-hosting world. The integration with eBay adds a powerful marketing dimension. But eBay is also offering marketing services that extend to shopping engines and the broader Internet:
ProStores is synchronized with eBay, allowing you to tap into eBay's marketplace of 147 million users. ProStores will also submit your store categories (business tier and above) to the major shopping engines, including Shopping.com [now owed by eBay], Shopzilla.com, Froogle, and Yahoo! Shopping. You can also add on Traffic Generation services for a guaranteed minimum of additional site visitors or your money back.
The "traffic generation" product is the same type of simplified bundled clicks offering that YP publishers, Web hosts and others are offering to SMEs. So as Web hosting starts to become something of a commodity, it's the value-added features and services — especially marketing — that differentiate the product from its competitors. Of course, virtually all the hosting competitors now have marketing product extensions.
eBay is a powerful brand in the SME world. It probably will extend the company's appeal beyond its traditional base of product sellers. However, that remains to be seen.
Regardless, the marketing aspect of ProStores is a very compelling proposition and reflective of a larger phenomenon of intermediaries enabling and managing online marketing on behalf of SMEs. In the end, this will contribute to the acceleration of the trend toward more SMEs online and more online marketing for SMEs (including via search).
The Internet Stock Blog offers a critique of eBay's pricing of the service.