Q&A with Laura Chambers of PayPal Mobile

eBay Inc. Staff

PayPal Mobile continues to blaze a trail as a digital wallet, opening up promising opportunities in local shopping and point-of-sale.

For the past several years, eBay Inc. has increasingly focused on mobile, local and social commerce, and has delivered on this promise with a leading collection of mobile applications. Among them,PayPal Mobile continues to win new users and is expected to drive mobile payment volume to over $2 billion in 2011, up from $25 million only four years ago. PayPal Mobile’s horizons are also expanding, including integration with eBay Inc.’s growing portfolio of local shopping assets, promising new point-of-sale applications, and more. Laura Chambers, Senior Director of PayPal Mobile, recently discussed the advantages that PayPal Mobile offers over other mobile payment solutions, and provides a glimpse of where it's headed.

Competition is heating up in the mobile payment space. What advantages does PayPal Mobile offer?
We’re clearly leading in mobile payments. In a recent third party survey, consumers reported that they see us as the most trusted brand in mobile payments. Part of that comes from the fact that we were out early, and people are familiar with us.

Across the competitive landscape, I think what some people miss is that to be a mobile payments company, you actually have to be a payments company first. This is a hard thing to do, and PayPal has been doing payments for over 11 years. We’ve got an incredible set of risk tools, analytics tools, and lots of existing users and merchants who favor us. We also have great customer support, so the transition to mobile has been easier for us than people coming from the device world only, or the carrier or search worlds. 

Can you provide some metrics on mobile payments and use of PayPal Mobile?
The growth has been extraordinary. I looked at our daily stats today, and mobile payment volume is 20 percent above our previous largest peak. Three years ago we did $25 million of mobile payment volume, two years ago it was $141 million, one year ago it was $750 million and this year we’re going to do well over $2 billion.

This is being driven by the adoption of smartphones, and by the fact that mobile commerce and shopping experiences on phones are getting better. eBay is driving a lot of that. People are simply becoming much more familiar with making mobile payments, and we keep payments very secure. 

What will the acquisition of Fig Card mean for PayPal Mobile?
The Fig Card team is fantastic. They’re helping us think about the concept of proximity technology. There are many ways that your phone can talk to other devices. We’re familiar with some of these, such as Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. The Fig Card team is helping us take emerging technology arriving on phones and use it to help blur divisions between the online and offline worlds. 

eBay Inc. is increasingly focused on local shopping. Going forward, how does PayPal Mobile fit into the local shopping strategy?
One of the most interesting aspects of a mobile phone is that it bridges the gap between the online and offline worlds. When you’re walking around in a store or a mall, you have the Internet with you. At PayPal, we’ve always facilitated online shopping, but now online shopping is starting to blur with this massive retail and local shopping world.

There are lots of new concepts to build around there. For example, we have just bought this great company WHERE, and this team is really brilliant when it comes to local shopping. They have all these fantastic merchants and they have excellent algorithms that match people with locations. They also have compiled incredible analytics surrounding local shopping. If you add that into what we’re doing with RedLaser, Milo and eBay, it’s clear that we have an extraordinary set of local shopping assets. 

How is third-party development of mobile apps based on the open PayPal X platform going?
It’s going very well, because we’re offering a lot of flexibility. Previously, the only way developers could monetize their mobile applications was by getting users to download and pay for them. That created a lot of friction. Since we’ve developed our mobile library, available across several platforms, we’ve seen that developers can find many ways to monetize their applications, and they’re innovating.

We solved the payments problem for developers, so they can leverage payments from within their applications and don’t have to simply rely on up-front fees for downloading their apps.

How do concepts like the digital wallet figure in PayPal’s future?
If you step back, PayPal is at its core is a digital wallet. It’s not just a single credit card or a single bank account. You want to be able to access your digital wallet on the go, and have it available in the cloud. The wallet should have access to your funding sources, your coupons, receipts and more. One digital wallet that does all of this is an exciting concept. In the next six to 12 months, as we move deeper into the retail world, we'll be adding a lot of digital wallet functionality that will make mobile shopping richer.

On the merchant side, we’re looking at point-of-sale payment opportunities. We foresee bringing PayPal options to offline stores in several ways. In the next year, we’ll be doing many pilots with these offline stores, employing new types of proximity technologies.

What are your favorite PayPal Mobile features?
We’ve got a fantastic suite of checkout features, and I love being able to use these at physical locations. I also frequently use our check-capture feature. With this, you can take photos of a check with your phone, and put the funds directly in your PayPal account. I also use PayPal Mobile for tip calculation and bill-splitting purposes. We’re going to increasingly adapt PayPal Mobile for the offline shopping world.

As you build your team, what are you seeing on the recruiting and development fronts?
We’re seeing two sides of the same coin. There is a hot talent market for mobile application developers, and it can be hard to get the people that you want. On the other hand, we’re pleasantly surprised by the caliber of applicants we’re seeing. We’ve got roles open now that will be attractive for developers looking for new challenges. We’re concentrating on bringing in the best new external talent, and developing and stretching great internal talent, too.