eBay Made Easy

The New England Patriots were panning for gold this week, but there were no Hidden Gems. The team members were presented with their Super Bowl rings after winning their second championship in three years last February. The rings were the biggest ever, weighing in at 3.8 ounces and 5.05 carats. Each ring is made of 14-karat gold with 104 diamonds. The team would not release the rings' value, except to say they were more costly than the $15,000 rings given out after the 2001 season.

Imagine, if you were with the team through both Super Bowl victories, you're now walking around with nearly half a pound and more than $30,000 worth of jewelry on your hand. The thought of it just makes us tired, not to mention paranoid about losing these gems.

In today's Motley Fool Take:

eBay Made Easy

By Alyce Lomax (TMF Lomax)

Auction is powerful, but there are those who haven't accepted the Way of eBay(Nasdaq: EBAY). According to The Wall Street Journal, UPS(NYSE: UPS) is teaming up with a company called AuctionDrop to enable those slackers who don't use the online auction bellwether to easily pitch their old stuff to its 95 million users.

Through the physical environment of 3,400 UPS Stores, those of us who are still too nervous, lazy, or technologically skittish to use eBay will be able to drop off goods like old computers, cameras, DVD players, and so forth. AuctionDrop will take care of the rest.

According to the Journal article, AuctionDrop isn't the only company that is currently aiming at this lucrative niche. For example, Circuit City(NYSE: CC) and Best Buy(NYSE: BBY) both accept used electronic merchandise for auction, though Best Buy has not officially admitted that it auctions the wares on eBay, even though that's the rumor.

Several trends sweeten the prospects. Given an improving market for PCs, many people might want to auction off their old clunkers to help finance the new. Snazzy, high-end plasma and digital televisions are tempting consumers, hinting that older models could end up in the halls of eBay.

Meanwhile, fears of the growing incidences of auction-related fraud could push some toward a middleman-like AuctionDrop; though its site doesn't make any extra assurances to guarantee against fraud, one might hope it has expertise in avoiding the latest scams.

Given the strong (and, to my way of thinking, slightly baffling) power of eBay, all the players mentioned seem destined to benefit in one way or another.

eBay will welcome the added exposure to the uninitiated, as well as the additional influx of goods for sale (and it certainly stands to reason that some of the AuctionDrop customers may one day knock out the middleman). UPS heightens its profile with consumers by getting in on the eBay allure and makes some money in the process by providing the shipping and packaging for AuctionDrop. Last but not least, AuctionDrop gets a cash cut of the sales.

One might wonder what UPS rival FedEx(NYSE: FDX), which recently acquired Kinko's, might have up its sleeve when it comes to similar traffic- and cash-generating initiatives hooking into a popular pastime that perfectly flows into package delivery. For now, though, UPS is building a bridge to eBay, and moves like this ensure that online auction will likely become a much more entrenched part of our lives.

Alyce Lomaxdoes not own shares of any of the companies mentioned. She has never used eBay and has to admit, that pre-IPO, her thought was, "That'll never work!" She always much preferred the concept of anotherMotley Fool Stock Advisorpick,Amazon.com(Nasdaq: AMZN).

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Mandalay Says "I Do"

By Tim Beyers

Look, I love Vegas as much as the next guy. In fact, I can't wait to get back and sidle up to a poker table, or maybe try Lakes Entertainment's(Nasdaq: LACO)World Poker Tour casino game. But let's be honest, Vegas isn't exactly the land of milk and honey. Heck, the town's motto -- "What happens here, stays here" -- perfectly describes its penchant for drive-through weddings and equally rapid divorces. Nothing seems to last in Vegas. Could that be about to change?

Tuesday, the board of Mandalay Resort Group(NYSE: MBG) accepted MGM Mirage's(NYSE: MGG) $7.9 billion merger proposal. MGM will pay $71 per stub in cash for Mandalay, including $4.8 billion for Mandalay shares, $600 million for outstanding Mandalay convertible bonds, and $2.5 billion to cover outstanding debt. Together, the couple would be the largest casino operator in the world, with 28 properties in five states.

You can't really blame MGM for going to the well to hook up with Mandalay, for, as fellow Fool Jeff Hwang recently pointed out, it is the sex kitten among the casino operators on the Vegas Strip. But can this marriage last? Well, unlike most shotgun weddings in the Nevada desert, these two actually dated before heading to the altar. MGM and Mandalay each own a 50% stake in the Monte Carlo resort, which recently helped put some sizzle into Mandalay's operating results.

But not all is well for the happy couple. Should the two be joined as expected, the result could be a $13 billion mountain of debt, almost twice that of the combined entity's annual projected revenue of $6.6 billion. As W.D. Crotty has reported, that makes The Donald's ailing Trump Hotels(NYSE: DJT) look miserly.

Indeed, as Trump's experience proves, not much good can come from a debt load that heavy. So for MGM and Mandalay, the honeymoon could be very short. And their offspring -- new properties to be created on undeveloped land they own on the Strip -- may be forced to accept unattractive terms to finance future building.

I don't think there's much question that the MGM-Mandalay marriage will be consummated, resulting in a few very beautiful children who will bring more glitz and glamour to the Strip. But will this pairing make money for you, the investor? Don't bet on it. You'd be better off looking into some of these deals, uncovered by our Foolish analysts:

Fool contributor Tim Beyers considers Vegas Vacation a classic and Chevy Chase a genius. He owns no stake in any of the companies mentioned, and you can view his Fool profilehere.

Discussion Board of the Day: Saving Social Security

This week, the Congressional Budget Office reported a Social Security surplus and pushed out projections that the program will be depleted by 2052. The 10-year reprieve leaves a little wiggle room but little comfort. Is Social Security worth saving? If not, what's the alternative? Discuss your views with other Fools on our Retire Early discussion board.

Push-Button Burgers at McDonald's

By Alyce Lomax (TMF Lomax)

Will you soon get a burger at the touch of a button? McDonald's(NYSE: MCD) is testing kiosks through which hungry, hurried customers can place their orders. It may be high time the fast-food chain found another way to bump up efficiency.

Prior to the company's impressive turnaround, service figured in customer dissatisfaction. Theoretically, a push-button system that delivers orders straight to the kitchen could cut time and alleviate confusion, as well as pare down frantic lunchtime lines. Also, imagine how the technology could help speed up the drive-thru lane. (It should be noted that these kiosks are meant to run simultaneous with traditional ordering, not replace it.)

Such automation is becoming more prevalent. How many of us hardly ever even see a bank teller anymore? Many grocery stores have the self-scan option. My local AMC Entertainment(AMEX: AEN) theater has a collection of ticketing kiosks that spring to mind. They always seem just as busy as the traditional lines, and help speed up a busy Friday night at the movies.

These businesses allow you to choose whether you'd rather interact with another human being to make your transaction or push some buttons and expedite a simple process that doesn't need assistance. Meanwhile, the increasing frequency of credit and debit card usage has made such automation easy to implement.

Of course, paying for a movie ticket may be easier than delivery of hot, prepared food. As you've already guessed, your burger and fries don't come shooting out of the kiosk. Instead, an employee rounds up your order and brings it to you.

Throughout its turnaround, McDonald's has been upping the ante in finding innovative ways to attract a crowd, with ideas including music downloads and DVD rentals. Its creative use of technology may well prove that thinking out of the Happy Meal box is working.

However, in this case, the test isn't quite the innovation that other theories have been. Rival Burger King is also testing the same idea in a few of its stores. If successful, one can imagine that such fast-food giants as Wendy's(NYSE: WEN) and Yum! Brands(NYSE: YUM) would be eager to copy it.

If the test's a success, you may someday be pushing buttons for burgers at a McDonald's near you. Any method that McDonald's can dream up to serve patrons more quickly and attract more loyal customers could only help to grow its top and bottom lines. However, one might worry that the system could wind up breeding chaos, turning restaurant outlets into a great, big McMess. For now, we wait to see.

Alyce Lomax does not own shares of any of the companies mentioned.

Quote of Note

"The wages of sin are death, but the benefits include dental, major medical, two-week paid vacation, pension fund, and stock options. Actually, taken as a package, it's a rather attractive deal." -- Tim Mefford

More on Fool.com Today

Be skeptical when you see lists of recommended stocks, and think for yourself, says Selena Maranjian in Fools Don't Rush In.... Betting on quick-moving security plays? You better read Seth Jayson's Portfolio Terror Alert first.

For a list of all our stories from today, see our Today's Headlines page.




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