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Can eBay regain its position as an mcommerce leader?

In 2010, Mobile Commerce Daily named eBay Mobile one of the top 10 mcommerce applications of the year, but in the time since, the company’s PayPal division has increasingly been the dominant driver of mobile-related news while mobile-first auction apps such as Poshmark have increased competition for the retailer. EBay is experimenting with social as a way to diversify its traffic and drive long-term growth, with promising initial results.

“While still small relative to our more established channels, traffic from social channels is growing over 100 percent year-on-year in the U.S.,” said Devin Wenig, CEO designee at eBay, in a conference call with analysts to discuss the company’s second quarter results.

“On Facebook, we’re early adopters of dynamic product ads, which enable retargeting on mobile,” he said. “And on Pinterest, eBay’s inspirational shopping content is driving very high engagement and click-through rates.

“And this success has positioned us as the top advertiser on the platform. We’re also focused on growing our newer channels including Instagram and Tumblr and we’ve recently launched efforts on Snapchat and Periscope.”

Mobile classifieds
EBay has not been standing on the sidelines in mobile but its recent moves have not generated the same level of excitement that the retailer previously achieved.

One recent attempt at mobile innovation was eBay’s introduction the fall of 2014 of a location-based mobile application called Close5 that looks to innovate classifieds.

Close5 launched in San Diego, enabling residents to sell items to others in their area. EBay and Threadflip are leading the way in C2C solutions as technology is enabling consumers to buy and sell in ways most convenient for them.

“There was a time, where eBay was going to ‘paper the app store’ with apps, for each vertical,” said Scott Michaels, executive vice president at Atimi Software. “Hence eBay Motors and eBay Fashion.

“That didn’t seem to materialize, and if I were to talk to eBay today, I would advise considering revitalizing the vertical apps,” he said. “Those Apps need love, attention, and most importantly curation from content experts in that space. If you want it to be a destination rather than a slice the investment in content is needed. Invest in user experience, as competitors like Etsy have done.”

Other opportunities for vertical apps include eBay kids, eBay books, eBay collectibles.

EBay should also try to compete in the location-based person-to-person selling market.

“Kijiji, an eBay competitor has does just this with Flook and there are many other examples where curation of the content, and it being hyper local is the current thrust in this space,” Mr. Michaels said.

But, perhaps most importantly, eBay needs to innovate. “Easy to say, hard to do,” Mr. Michaels said. “EBay has scale and users and can experiment in a way few others can. What about going as far as producing a wearable to let you know you are no longer number one in the bid so you can take action?”

Mobile services
One area where eBay has an opportunity to leverage mobile to build out its mcommerce sales is by extending its reach into services.

Last summer, the company would start testing selling auto mechanic services. Given that a significant portion of mechanic hires are unplanned, mobile is likely to be the primary tool when consumers are searching for nearby services.

The initial test does not appear to have been expanded much since last year so it is not clear how committed eBay is to this strategy.

This year, eBay was also one of the many merchants that jumped onboard with Apple Watch, integrating its main app so that users can stay on top of activity and make bids from their wrist.

Mobile challenges
The significant growth in PayPal has been eBay’s big story in mobile for some time, possibly draining resources that could have been used to strengthen its mcommerce position.

EBay has also seen some of its strength in online auctions be siphoned off by mobile-first newcomers such as Poshmark (see story).

Back in 2010, the eBay Mobile app was noteworthy for its ability to scan and compare a variety of products such as electronics, movies and video games. Using the RedLaser scanning technology, repeat sellers can scan a product and list it on eBay in 60 seconds or less.

EBay is on the Apple Watch

EBay launched a dedicated eBay Motors app in 2011, following its introduction of eBay Fashion in 2010. In 2012, the fashion app was rolled out globally and in 2013, the company created universal apps for each that work across the iPhone and iPad.

Both continue to be popular apps in the Apple App Store, but given how both car sales and fashion sales continue to escalate on mobile, it is surprising that eBay has not updated either app since November of 2014.

In 2011, eBay was also an early adopter of mobile technology to enable shoppers to interact with real-world marketing vehicles to make online purchases. Through a partnership with designer Jonathan Adler, the eBay Inspiration Shop enabled shoppers with the eBay app to scan QR codes on interactive store windows to make a purchase (see story).

“Looking toward the second half, we’ll be launching a new experience across mobile channels that we’re really excited about,” Mr. Wenig said.

“This experience is built upon learnings from our iPad app, a more engaging discovery-based experience for buyers that also builds on our simplified mobile selling experience,” he said. “This release will unify the mobile experience across our platforms and it’ll enable a consistent user experience and faster product iteration.”

Final Take
Chantal Tode is senior editor on Mobile Commerce Daily, New York