In 2008, eBay introduced the first ecommerce app for iOS at Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference. Over the last decade, we’ve expanded our mobile team and sharpened our focus to create a world-class mobile experience. Today, our app is rated 4.8 stars in the App Store, has millions of users and is among the top shopping apps.
Technologies such as computer vision and artificial intelligence propel our mobile user experience, making shopping fun—helping you find the perfect item out of the 1.1 billion items in our global marketplace.
We recently caught up with Chief Product Architect Steve Yankovich, who joined eBay at the beginning of 2009 to lead our investment in mobile technologies.
On being a pioneer in the mobile app development...
We launched the first eBay app for iOS in 2008 and there was only one person working on it at the time. When I joined eBay in 2009, I was coming from a startup and hardware background so I was immediately interested in leveraging what I knew was going to become an important mobile platform.
There were a lot of questions, ranging from “Is it safe?” to “Will people even use it?” But we knew inherently, at the time, that an app could do big things for eBay’s marketplace where the inventory is incredibly broad. Our theory was that a lot of product discovery happens when you are actually living your life. A great example of that is a story I heard about someone seeing these amazing, light ski bindings while he was in line waiting for the ski lift. And, using his phone, he went onto eBay and bought those ski bindings before he even got to the top of the slope.
Then, the other part of our initiative was the utility of creating shopping opportunities for all of the moments that people are stuck in one place—on a plane, in a car or sitting in the waiting room at the doctor’s office.
My thought was, if you can act in these moments, it would be a game changer.
On developing the app from 2008 and beyond...
I ran our first mobile initiative like a startup, asking for funding and building out a team of tinkerers, innovators and early adopters to lead our mobile efforts. I wanted to do it this way because I had seen this type of innovation when my dad was an employee at IBM while they were building the first PC.
It’s hard to ask people what they will use or adopt when what you are developing really is at the brink of innovation.
There were still a lot of unknowns and questions at the time. People across the commerce and technology industries weren’t fully convinced that shoppers would use their mobile devices to buy things. So, we conducted focus groups and did research studies to not only understand what potential customers were looking for but also to gather information to convince the industry and our peers that the opportunity we saw in mobile was real. And those focus groups were interesting because it’s hard to ask people what they will use or adopt when what you are developing really is at the brink of innovation. It’s a complete shift and you have to be a visionary to immediately make that shift.
Over the years, we even had separate apps for our different verticals—one for fashion, one for motors, one for selling—before we integrated them back into our core app. And new iPhone features being added had huge impact on each evolution of the app.
As my team developed the app, we had to change our approach to design, taking into account the small size of the phone’s screen. It really forced us to think about the user interface and what we would use to fill out the real estate throughout our app experience. This new approach paved the way for our “mobile first” strategy. Today, we’re investing heavily in our mobile experience because we see it as table stakes in the future of ecommerce. You can see this coming to life in buying features like image search and Interests, and selling features like super simple listing capabilities and shipping tools powered by augment reality.
On what pushes him to be an early adopter…
My dad was a huge fan of President John F. Kennedy and his amazing and inspiring leadership. He had this film clip of President Kennedy’s speech at Rice University where he talked about our plan to go to the Moon. He addressed some of the critics and said, Why the moon? Why choose this as our goal? To make his point, he asked, “Why climb the highest mountain?” And his answer was, we go to the moon and do these groundbreaking things not because they’re easy but because they’re hard.
I took this and had the idea of a moonshot goal to motivate us and think about building our path to greatness. It’s about setting a high bar as a goal and challenging ourselves because we intend to win.
On setting a “moonshot” goal…
Our goal with mobile is all about friction reduction—do something for me so that I don’t have to type and click. In many ways, shopping and selling can be very difficult, with a lot of opportunities for things to go wrong as you try to find the right item or find the right customer to buy your item. We were thinking of it like a digital personal assistant that knew you like an actual personal assistant.
We created a strategy in 2011 where we outlined our vision for emerging technologies, including a moonshot description for image recognition and for voice recognition. Many of the things we outlined, like computer vision and augmented reality, are live today. As the devices themselves have evolved, so has our strategy. Better camera functionalities on your mobile device inspired my team’s thinking for camera as a platform for commerce.
On the moonshot goal for the next 10 years…
It’s actually a Mars shot. Most of your interaction will eventually be all on mobile for the things that matter to you and managing that digital personal assistant is going to be through mobile devices and distributed ecosystems. We want to personify this frictionless experience.
There is huge opportunity for mobile as we think about how we can create simpler, easier experiences for the user with new technologies—think about augmented reality, computer vision and how we could apply those, paired with more than a billion items in our marketplace.
Leveraging AI, mobile devices will become much more intelligent. We’ll see apps and devices becoming more integrated with each other to better connect you to the things that you need.
Steve Yankovich is eBay's Chief Product Architect. Steve is a Silicon Valley native, with a career at the forefront of new technologies spanning software, hardware and enterprise. He holds over 90 patents.
eBay by the Numbers
eBay has 171 million active buyers worldwide
80% of all merchandise sold on eBay is new, and our wide selection keeps growing
88% of items sold on eBay are Buy It Now – no bidding necessary
70% ship for free in US, UK and DE
62% of the eBay platform involves a mobile touchpoint
402 million downloads of the eBay Inc. apps across the globe