Mobile World Congress 2013: Retail Therapy

By: eBay Inc. Staff

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Mobile technology is enhancing the retail shopping experience in countless new ways, as demonstrated by a panel Wednesday afternoon at Mobile World Congress 2013 in Barcelona.

Half a dozen retail-oriented corporations and entrepreneurs gave presentations about how their products are shaping – or hope to shape – the mobile retail landscape. The demonstrations came from the likes of AT&T Alerts, a location-based offers program where text messages are sent to participating subscribers when they are near participating retailer or advertising programs, to a new augmented reality app called Blippar, which lets mobile users unlock exclusive content like behind-the-scenes videos when the app wielder scans certain images.

The presentations were followed by short Q&A sessions with several mobile executives, including some of the earlier presenters, as well as Steve Yankovich, eBay Inc.’s vice president of innovation and new ventures. Given the diversity of the individuals on-stage, the resulting conversation jumped around and hit a number of different topics, including the challenges traditional retailers face in trying to become omni-channel resources, and the merits and risks of near-field communications (NFC).

In particular, the panel moderator asked Yankovich to describe eBay Inc.’s view of the retail industry from a mobile perspective.

Noting that in 2012, eBay Marketplaces generated $13 billion in mobile commerce volume, and PayPal processed $14 billion in mobile payment volume, Yankovich said the company was a partner, not a competitor to retailers.

“We don’t sell products ourselves; we’re the plumbing,” he said. “Mobile is going to be the catalyst for changing the retailing environment.”

When asked about the debate of NFC, Yankovich notes the he supported solutions that reduced friction. Because he lives in the “car crazy” San Francisco bay area, he added that as a use case, he wished he could just pull up to any gas station, pump his gas, and not have to pull out a phone to pay.

“It would be interesting to see if we can pull that off,” he said, adding that he would definitely sign up for that ability. Furthermore, he’d want to know “what’s the version of that for retail? How do I go completely frictionless?”

New technologies will tell.