Fast Company: How did the idea for Watch With eBay come about?
Steve Yankovich: A few years ago I was watching the movie Something's Gotta Give. As I was watching I saw a coffeemaker on screen that I wanted. I tried to find that exact coffeemaker without much luck. I thought this could be something that we could do on our mobile platform. And this is a perfect fit for eBay, because we're really the only place with the wide range of products that you find across the TV programming spectrum: collectibles, retro products, new products, clothing, etc. On a soap opera, people may want some of the clothing they see, for a big game, maybe it's a jersey or some other sports memorabilia.
So will I be able to buy anything from any scene?
The app can sync with any television program in the U.S. I think the coverage is pretty ubiquitous. But people also don't want to buy something every second. You see a lot of things on screen just for a fleeting moment. In general, people watching a show like let's say, Dora the Explorer, don't necessarily want products from a specific scene, they want Dora the Explorer products. If you think about the height of people's interest in a TV show or a sports team, it's when they are watching that show or team on TV. The app gives the user an opportunity to see what they can buy at the peak moment of their engagement with the show or team. If you're watching a 49ers game, and you have the app on, you go into the store and you see a 49ers barbeque cover. You weren't looking for that, and maybe you didn't even know it existed, but now you see it and you like it. When you enter the app, it's like walking into entire custom store devoted to the 49ers where you can explore and discover all sorts of products.
People have talked about being able to buy things shown on TV for a long time. Several companies and technologies have been launched over the years to do this. Why will it work now?
According to Nielsen, 86% of people are using a mobile device while watching TV and 30% are looking up something on their device related to the programming on TV. We also know that people don't want to use their TV as a computer while they are watching it. They hate that screen with the guide and navigating through all the information. So instead of putting the app directly on the TV, there's a connected experience on two different devices. It can be passive if the user wants, and they can set up the app and have it streaming while they're watching and glance over at it when they feel like it. At eBay, we like to think of this experience as "couch commerce."
Are there certain products that might not work well in this model?
Well, take cars ... I mean, we sell 2,800 cars on eBay mobile a week—
2,800 cars sold on mobile a week. That's a pretty eye-popping number.
I actually think all of our mobile numbers are eye-popping. On the mobile side we had $180 in purchases made per second. Our iPad app has been huge. And I think it's a reflection of the fact that people are moving into situational shopping. Say that I'm in your living room and I see your espresso machine, and you tell me you love it. I just got the best review possible, directly from you. So with the eBay mobile app, I can pull out my phone, go to the app and buy it then and there.
So do you think this model will lead people to buy more than they normally would?
I don't think suddenly people who would normally spend $1,000 a year are going to spend $6,000. But where you are when you buy something matters more than ever. It used to be with eBay that you had to be right in front of your computer when an auction was ending and all the activity happened in those last few minutes. We don't live like that anymore. We can now make purchases wherever we are—in a friend's living room, in a car, or while we're watching a movie. Now we can seamlessly buy the products we encounter in those experiences ...
David D. Burstein is a young entrepreneur, having completed his first documentary 18 in '08. He is also the Founder & Executive director of the youth voter engagement not for profit, Generation18. His book about the millennial generation will be published by Beacon Press in 2012.