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EBay bringing mobile apps into the future

Nancy Gohring | Sept. 8, 2010
EBay has grand visions that put eBay mobile at the center of the virtual and physical shopping experience

That idea sounds similar to Google's Goggles, an application that lets people take a photo of a product with their phone and receive information about price and where to buy it.

Yankovich also wants to build more "augmented reality" features into eBay's mobile applications. One example could be where a seller could take a video of an antique chair. An eBay application would turn that video into a 3D image that a potential buyer could overlay on a photograph of their room, letting them see how it would look.

EBay already offers a similar feature in its fashion app, where users can overlay a piece of clothing on a photo of themselves.

But Yankovich has an even grander vision -- one that involves replacing Google as the place where phone users start when shopping. He wants users to think of eBay first as the place to find the best deals anywhere--both online and in person.

"I think the big prize here is to garner a large share of brick-and-mortar retail," he said. That doesn't mean that he wants to steal business from physical stores. "It's a combining of online and offline," he said.

For example, he'd like to see people use their phones to search on eBay for a product and find it on eBay, potentially in other online stores and also in nearby physical stores. The user then has the choice of how to buy the product.

The user could start out shopping in a physical store and use Red Laser to scan a barcode for a product. The application might let the store that the user is in know that the user is shopping for a better deal. The store can decide to match that better deal or offer the shopper a discount, delivered via an electronic coupon.

The idea sounds interesting, but eBay will have to be careful not to cannibalize its own sales, said Mark Beccue, an analyst with ABI Research. "I can't imagine they'd turn down business. So it has to be something that kicks you out [to a physical store] only if it's not something available on eBay," he said.

Going head-to-head with Google on search is a "tall order," said Beccue. However, eBay has some advantages over Google. "Google is a master of search. I don't know if many consumers think that Google is the master of e-commerce," he said. "Amazon and eBay are much better positioned for that than Google."

The mobile commerce efforts that eBay has made so far have already proved successful. Beccue said that in 2009, people in the U.S. bought $1.2 billion worth of goods from their phones. That means eBay accounted for half of the entire mobile commerce market in the U.S.


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