As Vice President of Innovation and New Ventures at eBay Inc., Steve Yankovich spends a lot of time thinking about new technologies that can create game-changing opportunities. He has a proven track record at this, having launched eBay Inc.’s first mobile applications several years ago, and helping them blossom into industry-leading engines of commerce.
Recently, Steve sat down for an interview on eBay Inc.’s current innovation strategies and technology initiatives, which was covered by TechCrunch. Here are his thoughts, and a related infographic is also available.
What is eBay's approach to developing for new mobile platforms? Does it rely on accurate forecasts of which platforms and devices will succeed?
Even with the success we’ve had with mobile technology, we don’t have Yoda-like skill at predicting what’s going to work or not work. Part of what made our mobile business so big was that we went after all channels right from the start because we believed mobile was part of a seed change for how consumers engaged, so we built for all major platforms and mobile web, we didn’t debate which not to do. I think with new devices we need try, test and learn from each that make sense as consumer adoption for new devises has never been more rapid.
Some mobile devices are finding niche success in emerging markets around the world. Does eBay's mobile strategy take emerging markets into account?
These markets are important. We are looking at technology and screen adoption trends around the world. Obviously, it’s easier to work in your own backyard. Arguably, North America and Europe have been the starting grounds for most important technologies over the past 15 or 20 years, but we are looking at strategies for many other markets, including some mobile-only strategies. There are, after all, countries where many people have never had computers, and some people may only have mobile devices.
How do you see wearables changing the shopping experience? What possibilities do these devices open up to consumers and retailers?
Wearables have every sign of being huge, consumer adoption is at a pace that we’ve never seen before, especially connected tech. And it’s for things that have me scratching my head as to why! An example is the FitBit…just a year or so ago nobody would care about counting their steps, now apparently everyone cares….for commerce the wearable will become the next step in removing in further friction than smartphones did. It will be a better push experience and also one where you take action than the phone. Where is the phone when you get an alert? What’s easier than your smart-watch vibrating, you simply turn your wrist to note that an item you’ve been watching is about to go away, a simple touch buys the item…you could accomplish that doing almost any activity without disruption…that’s friction reduction!
How might new technologies in the automotive world open up new opportunities for the future of shopping?
People will depend on technology in cars to make choices about where they look for things and where they go. Cars might help people take advantage of the lowest gas prices nearby, or locate an empty parking spot in a busy mall parking lot close to the store that has shoes because that’s what we know this trip to the store is for. They can also perform various kinds of personal assistant tasks, and in the future the windshield and side windows in cars will become screens that you can interact with. My Innovation group is doing a lot of conceptual things with glass.
Has having a commerce platform and payments platform helped innovation inside the company and in bringing new cutting-edge tech to consumers?
If you think of eBay Inc.’s main assets, you have to consider the global marketplace that we leverage, our payment capabilities and our relationships with retailers. Our newest opportunities, such as some of the concepts we’re working on in retail innovation, depend on all of these things working together.
If we didn’t have all these assets in the family, things would get much harder. Even small components of our technologies that people may not be so aware of, such as APIs, work together to make what we do easier.
As we explore new concepts such as connected glass and touch-sensitive walls, we can benefit from leveraging all of our assets together. Our assets let us participate in all of commerce, not just ecommerce, and the overall commerce market towers over the ecommerce market.
When you think ecommerce technology in 10 years, what do you envision?
I actually have a 10-year moonshot that I’ve sketched out for my Innovation group. The moonshot includes moving toward a concept I call ZEC, for Zero Effort Commerce. For example, a really smart digital personal assistant would take advantage of ZEC.
I have a friend who has a personal assistant who keeps track of his needs. His personal assistant replaces ceiling can light bulbs, replaces shirts that she noted show wear, constantly fills the fridge, changes the wiper blades in cars, and on and on. In this persons world everything he needs and wants automatically happens.
We can work towards building a virtual personal assistant that uses personalization, historical behavior and the coming sensors of the connected home and life around us to do much the same thing but for all of us.