eBay App version 4: Review technical insights

A week ago eBay unveiled their latest eBay App version 4 for Android and Apple iOS.

eBay App ReviewsI’ve been holding back on reviewing it for two reasons – firstly it was a phased roll out and I didn’t actually get the latest eBay Android app until a few days ago and secondly because having read reams of 1 and 2 star reviews for the app I wanted to find out why users think it’s so bad.

I’ve also had the opportunity to speak to RJ Pittman, Chief Product Officer at eBay, who’s been able to share some additional insights.

As a Samsung Galaxy user I’ll be referring to the Android App, I’m sure there will be minor differences to anyone using the iOS version, although App User Interface is now unified across both platforms.

Why the major eBay mobile App overhaul?

One of the things that was necessary was to make a bigger investment and commitment to mobile as a whole for eBay. Mobile is growing at a brisk pace so a big part of the new App was making sure that under the hood the right technology was there to bring forward new features and functionality in the future.

80% of the improvements were behind the scenes changes focusing around speed, security and the ability to drive multiple versions of the App forward at once for iPhone, iPad, Android, smart phones and tablets. The aim for the app is a services to make eBay a multi-screen ecommerce company.

eBay App 4.0 is a giant step in that direction and laying down a foundation for the new shopping and selling experience, able to move very fast to make it customisable and personalisable, version 4.0 is just a stepping stone in that direction but a pretty big stepping stone.

What have eBay done differently

My first impression of the App (and I’m sure partly the reason that there are so many low star reviews) is that it’s very different to previous versions. In the past the app was heavily menu driven whereas the new app is aimed heavily at shopping with graphics playing a major role in navigation.

eBay App CategoriesIf you scroll to the categories tab eBay have replaced text list with beautiful picture menus. There’s been a lot of thought to make the app pretty here so credit where credit’s due. At the top center of the App is the ever present search box so it’s easy to enter the keywords for whatever you want to buy just as you would on eBay and it all appears to work as expected with the ability to refine by category, buying format, brand, item specifics, condition and price.

eBay’s goal is to drive healthy blend of browse versus search and currently the new App has driven three to five times more browsing than the previous version (increase varies by country).

Browsing wasn’t a highly engaged way to use previous eBay apps so it may be an increase of a small number but it is absolutely in the right direction. RJ tells me that buyer activity browsing categories and going across categories by sweeping side to side though the App has seen buyers shopping across other products to their original intent and shopping in more categories.

If the App is increasing shopping activity and exposing buyers to more categories than ever before that has to be a good thing for sellers.

eBay App version 4 testing

Before they launched 4.0 eBay invited forty five thousand buyers and sellers into a public beta – both business and consumer users. This allowed them to get a lot of critical customer feedback and they used a lot of that feedback in honing the final release.

It went very well but that said it takes a little bit of getting used to and adoption challenges and issues that could frustrate many customers was expected. However even after the public beta, when users started waking up to an auto-update it was no surprise that there were some challenges in bringing customers along.

This isn’t even unique to eBay App 4.0 – there was a very rapid flywheel of releases for the iPad release last December that took them from a low rating in the app store right back to well over 4 stars again and eBay are already seeing the App and performance start to stabilise along with the ratings.

eBay App ActivityHome screen menus

When you open the App the menu options are now “Activity”, “Shop” and “Sell”, gone is the previous “My eBay” and buying screens – that’s now all under “Activity”. This is semi confusing as the Activity tab shows two Recently Viewed Items at the top (both of which I’ve already purchased), than watched items, followed by a buying overview (useless, I have no bids, no offers and apparently 13 purchases. The section then has a selling overview (Sold, Unsold and 60 day running total of order value) and finishes up with sellers that I’m following.

eBay App MenueBay have displayed buying and selling activity summaries on cards in this screen, but there’s too little information to be useful. However all is not lost, from the Activity screen you can click into your Buying or Selling activity for pretty much all of the information you’ve been used to seeing in previous version of the app. If you’re not on the home screen there’s a drop down menu on every screen no matter where you are in the app with the same menu options.

“It all looks different” complaint rather than “It doesn’t work” or “Stuff’s missing” complaint appears to be a common complaint but it shouldn’t take too long to become accustomed to the new eBay App.

Portrait / Landscape mode

One justifiable complaint of the new App is that it doesn’t appear to support landscape view with screen rotation. There’s a reason for this and that is that landscape mode was an Android only feature – the new App is unified across platforms.

This is a real pain so sellers take note:

If you’ve still got mobile unfriendly descriptions they’re now often unreadable on the eBay app. If you’ve got a category list down the left hand side of your description that’s probably all I’ll see.

Worst of all if you’ve got fixed width descriptions and the text can’t flow to fill the screen size then buyers now have to constantly scroll side to side in the eBay app to try and read your description.

Of course many buyers don’t bother reading descriptions these days (and who can blame them on the eBay app), so images, titles, categories, item specifics and product identifiers (brands and GTINs) are absolutely essential.

Lack of landscape mode is also a complete PITA when trying to read or reply to messages – especially eBay messages with their rich HTML format!

eBay have this in the lab, for the tablets the App is already in landscape mode but eBay recognise for larger phone formats screen rotation could offer great value. They’ve nothing to announce formerly but are investigating very seriously so watch this space.

On the subject of eBay’s HTML emails not being mobile friendly, RJ tells me that they’re not going to let the messaging team off the hook simply by giving landscape mode to the App. That doesn’t solve the core issue, so eBay are working on mobile optimising eBay messages. RJ says that mobile unfriendly emails are unacceptable and a long standing problem which they’re solving one email type at a time. Even with an email fix however, there are still many reasons that landscape views makes good sense.

Where are the daily deals?

There’s a glitch with the UK version of the new eBay App which means eBay Deals aren’t displaying, or to be more correct only a small subset of deals are viewable in the eBay App. For US users all the deals show, so RJ has the team urgently running down the glitch to fix this. If you’re having trouble finding the deals this will be fixed in the near future.

eBay App SellingSelling Improvements

Selling is definitely improving through the application making it easier to be able to sell through mobile devices and to encourage first time listers. eBay aim to make the eBay app the easiest simplest fastest way to list something and manage your listings all in the palm of your hand.

The app has grown in complexity however, there’s a standard editor and for anyone that wants to hen peck their way through there’s even an HTML editor if you fancy writing code on a mobile keyboard. Advice with listing via mobile for complex HTML descriptions is much the same as it’s always been – use your mobile to take the photos and start the listing off, save it as a draft, and then complete the listing on your desktop before putting it live.

The big new features you probably haven’t spotted

The upgrade from v3 to v4 for the eBay App was a radical overhaul and in reality was mainly preparation for the future to make the App more engaging, more relevant and ultimately to drive more buying and selling activity.

Across the App are various channels with each set of content held in “cards”. In the future these channels will get much more personalised, the cards are flexible, smart, and can adapt to usage patterns. Users of the eBay App will also be able to customise which cards they see in the future and there’s there’s a lot more to come in the next year.

Now that the framework is in place and eBay have consolidated all their Apps into effectively one, the back end development will only need to be done once in the future and then rolled out to whatever version of the App you’re using, whether that be an iPhone, and Android or a tablet platform. In the past development would have to be done separately for each operating system.

By making all of these changes eBay will be able to put out a lot more features more often, RJ summed it up as “nothing but goodness for customers”.

You can download the all new eBay App version 4 today for your favourite device.