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eBay’s Success Will Come from Enhancing the Shopping Experience, Not Changing It

Posted by: Frank Vrtar on May 06, 2013

ebay eBay is synonymous with online auctions. It created the category, so it’s an understandable perception of the brand that will be difficult to escape.

Recently it has been making a big push to be relevant in the bricks-and-mortar offline retail world through initiatives like the Here point-of-sale system, so the announcement it is partnering with an unnamed retailer to create a “pop-up” shop with a touchscreen window-front is not surprising. Late last week, eBay CEO John Donahoe said that retailers needed to “go to where your consumers are shopping.”

Where do you go to find shoppers? You go to the store, of course!

Human beings have been participating in commerce by going to the market for thousands of years. A couple of decades of technological advancement are not going to eliminate such a deeply ingrained social interaction. Most purchases are made in-store, and that is not changing any time soon.

The technology winners in retail are not going to be those that try to fundamentally change the shopping experience. They are going to be the ones that best enhance the real-world interactions a shopper is already using.

Grocery Shopping

Online grocery shopping has continually failed because it removes the immediate, spontaneous, sensory and social components integral to grocery shopping while delivering little in the way of convenience or selection enhancement. Essentially it has been unable to find a model that fits into how people shop. Grocery retailers have had much more success with technologies like self-checkout and in-store mobile applications, which add value to the existing customer experience.

Shoppers are less likely to look at the retail experience in terms of online versus offline. To them, purchasing is about satisfying a need, and they will use the tools that best help them find the product that does so. The winning technologies will be those that enhance the retail experience by delivering one or more of six key enhancement opportunities:

  • Extending Product Selection 
  • Recommending Products 
  • Comparing Products and Prices 
  • Extending Purchase Opportunities 
  • Simplifying or Enhancing Payment 
  • Enhancing Post-Purchase Care

The success of online retail is largely because of its ability to deliver against these opportunities, and the logical extension is to bring the online tools to the physical store. eBay is setting itself up for success, keeping its focus within these opportunity areas, and it has “bet hard on mobile” to make it happen.

Donahoe said, “It’s not just to shop or make payments, but the whole flow.” Donahoe suggested a shopping experience that has the shopper using not only their mobile phone, but many digital touchpoints at different points in the experience.

Shoppers are already using the web pre-store to research product selections and are using their smartphones to compare price and product while in-store. A Deloitte study of consumers who used apps/websites in-store during their most recent shopping trip showed that 85 percent of shoppers surveyed actually made a purchase that day, compared to only 64 percent who used a third-party app or site.

ebay mobileThe large touchscreen window-front may create the most buzz because of its novelty and flashy nature. It may very well be successful because it can be used to extend the product selection and provide purchase opportunities at times beyond the store hours. But the real hero will be the mobile device.

Shoppers are comfortable with their smartphones. They feel safe and in control with them. Most importantly they have already integrated them into their shopping experience. The more ways eBay can find to enable mobile devices to hit on the enhancement opportunities, the more successful it will be.

Beyond online auctions, eBay has been an innovator in the way people buy, sell and pay for products online. With the “pop-up” store it will have a showpiece that blurs the lines between the online and offline, creating a true unified shopping experience. It has the opportunity to break the perception of the brand as an online auction site and become known as a true retail innovator.

Frank Vrtar is Senior Designer, User Experience for Interbrand Design Forum.

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