It’s time for eBay to innovate again

The Internet is changing faster than ever before and that’s a challenge for retailers. It’s also a challenge for marketplaces and eBay, once the world leader not just in marketplaces but in commerce innovation, are starting to lag behind.

eBay have had many many world leading innovations over the past 20 years, but what about the next couple of decades? Let’s take a look at eBay and the Internet’s history and try to predict the future:

The Modem Age

ModemI remember fondly my flat mate getting a work laptop with a 14.4k dial up modem and having my first glimpse into the world of the Internet. CompuServe and AOL ruled the world and wanted to own the content you could access. You had to do the virtual “Ask nicely” to be allowed off AOL’s content and to view the world wide web itself.

28.8k, 33.6k, 56k modems came and went with very few able to afford 64k ISDN lines, but then broadband proliferated and suddenly rich content was the order of the day. More and bigger images, video, gaming, messaging and Skype and video messaging become the norm rather than the exception.

The Pre-Mobile Age

eBay old logo feateBay and Amazon flourished, but this was a desktop experience and having an image on an eBay listing was the exception rather than the norm. eBay democratised selling online enabling any business or consumer to sell around the world.

At this time Amazon was little more than a jumped up Internet book store and eBay ruled the world of online commerce.

The Mobile Age

eBay Mobile SiteeBay bet big on mobile and were one of the first to have a fully operational mobile website. I remember (no longer operational) and the the first proper mobile site.

Then again, almost a decade ago eBay went even bolder and made a ballsy move to be ahead of the game, creating what was to become the world’s most popular mobile app.

In 2008 when hardly everyone owned a smartphone, eBay predicted the future and made a massive mobile investment. At the time the success of the eBay mobile app was impossible to imagine but there always have been some very smart people working at eBay and they got it right. Very right.

eBay App v4 feateBay was an innovator and mobile was the future that they bet the company on and the bet paid off giving eBay a head start on the competition and a position in the market which has carried them through the last decade.

Now however eBay have stopped innovating. They’ve had no major innovation since mobile and they’re about to lose their cutting edge market leading position to their arch rival Amazon.

The Post-Mobile Age

We’re about to enter the post mobile age of the Internet. It may be hard to envisage but the mobile in your pocket is in reality about as inconvenient to use as the days when you had to plug your modem into your landline and wait while your modem chirped as it dialed up to your ISP.

Think about it, you have to take your mobile out of your pocket, wake it up possibly with a fingerprint recognition, open an app or browser, type in your search term or perhaps use speech recognition. It’s all very last decade and a bit tiresome. If only there was an easier way to get online… and there is.

Amazon Echo is the shape of the future

At Catalyst Connect in London this week, David Spitz, CEO of ChannelAdvisor recounted how Amazon Echo changed his whole family’s life.

Amazon EchoAmazon Echo is always on, always listening and she has a name – Alexa. All you have to do is speak a command and Alexa is ready to respond… “Alexa, will it rain today?”, “Alexa, remind me to buy loo roll”, “Alexa, when’s my next appointment?”.

I’m a bit old fashioned, if I need to remind myself of something I tend to send myself an email. That way I’ll have a message at the top of my inbox. One day soon I’ll have a device always listening acting as a personal assistant who will be able to handle reminders for me.

David told the Catalyst Connect audience how his young son started to interact with Alexa. First he told Alexa to add a toy to the shopping list and unlike asking mummy or daddy for a toy and being told “No”, Alexa simply responded “I’ve added a toy to your shopping list”. That was great so he added more toys, then asked Alexa to add 1000 million toys and Alexa said it was done. For a young boy this was just too fantastic so he simply told Alexa to add every toy in the world to the shopping list and Alexa responded that she had.

A young boy adding toys to the shopping list sounds cute, but Amazon are really onto something here. We don’t want to use an old fashioned mobile app. I don’t want to be emailing myself for the rest of my life.

Adding reminders to your calendar, reading out information such as news or weather reports, ordering products which Amazon will then automatically deliver and bill you for, turning on the lights, adjusting the heating, playing an Amazon Prime movie on your TV, starting a play list from Amazon Music… these are just the things that Amazon Echo can do today. Developers can create apps for Echo to add new functions and you can bet that many of these will be commerce related from ordering pizza to booking cinema tickets and of course buying products.

Amazon aren’t stopping with Amazon Echo, they’ve also got the Amazon Dash buttons which will automatically reorder product for you without any intervention required.

The mobile age is done. Welcome to the Internet of Things

The mobile age of the Internet was a fantastic time to be online and I’ve loved it. It’s a bit old fashioned now and in another decade we’ll look back fondly on it as we do today at modems and early slow speed broadband. Now everywhere you turn there are smart watches, wearable devices, the Internet of Things (IoT) where devices themselves are connected online.

Very soon practically every house in the country will have a smart electric and gas meter which communicates with the power companies for billing and lets you know which devices in your house are devouring electricity. We’ll soon have self driving cars and already have devices connected to the Internet to give us directions. I love how Google Maps can divert me onto an alternate route if there’s an accident or congestion ahead.

What about eBay?

eBay New Logo FeatThat brings me back to eBay. eBay innovated and democratised online selling. eBay democratised online payments with PayPal. eBay democratised cross border trade enabling both consumers and businesses to sell around the world. eBay were the early innovators with mobile. But what about tomorrow?

Are eBay about to be left in a mobile age as the Internet enters a post mobile age? As David Spitz said in his keynote at Catalyst Connect, the pace of change for retailers is still accelerating and we’ve whizzed through the mobile age in the blink of an eye. David didn’t specifically call out eBay as being left behind. He did however highlight Amazon as being leading innovators in the post mobile age. What do you think?