Anatomy Of A Redesign: How eBay Pieced Together A New E-Commerce Machine

eBay unveiled a new site redesign today, along with its plans to take over online and offline retail. We take a look at the parts that are powering eBay's big play for e-commerce dominance.

eBay is grabbing as large a slice of the $10 trillion global retail industry as it can get, starting with an all-new website redesign, which it unveiled at a press event at New York's Highline Stages today.

The new eBay, which is rolling out across the U.S. starting today, sports a cleaner and more streamlined design that features larger images, and brings a welcome two-click checkout feature into the fold. Its most interesting new feature is Feed, a new, visually-oriented way for shoppers to curate and filter the kinds of items eBay shows them. You can specify which product categories you'd like to see in your personal Feed, which is a welcome way to wade through the site's 350 million listings. And the more you interact with the items in your Feed, the better it will get at showing you new items you might not have asked for, but will probably like.

eBay has come a long way from its origins as a destination for collectors of the kitschy, nichey, and hard-to-find. (The first item ever sold on the site was a broken laser pointer.) Today, it competitors include everyone from Amazon to Etsy to Fab. It drives more than $70 billion in sales annually, mostly on fixed-price items, and this year it expects $10 billion of that to come from its mobile apps, which have been downloaded more than 100 million times.

And along its path to retail domination, eBay has picked up a handful of tech companies who are helping it tackle the industry's most difficult problems, from how to smartly recommend products to how to mimic the magic of brick-and-mortar shopping online. Here, we look at some of those problems, and the companies eBay has picked up to help it solve them.

Shopping needs to be more social.

The solution: Svpply
Why it fits: eBay, like its competitors, has long known that shoppers' purchasing decisions are swayed by input from friends. The company has experimented with social shopping tools in the past, such as its Help Me Shop bookmarklet that lets you ask friends for thoughts on items you could save from around the web. But it was missing Svpply's firepower. Svpply, which started as a retail curation site, built up an active and enthusiastic userbase of tastemakers who uploaded photos of their favorite products onto its beautiful, visuals-heavy interface. Users also had the ability to follow others, whether they were friends or just other tastemakers whose style they admired. Feed introduces elements of Svpply's tastemaker-driven approach to discovering products you might like to buy, and in the future Carges says buyers and sellers will have the ability to share Feeds with one another. You'd be able to select only certain elements of another person's feed (say you liked the items in their feed related to music, but not to handbags)

Recommending products people will actually want to buy is difficult.

The solution: Hunch
Why it fits: Hunch built a service it calls the Taste Graph, which asked you basic questions about yourself to help you find people, places, and things you might like, using the smart inferences the Hunch algorithm made based on your answers. Taste Graph draws on the idea of collaborative filtering, which uses the idea that people like you probably like, buy, and watch the same things you do. (Amazon and Netflix both bake collaborative filtering into their own recommendation systems.) In the future, Carges says, eBay will be able to make better connections between you and other buyers with similar interests and spending patterns to suggest items that may be more off the beaten path but still likely to delight you--think Polish Christmas ornaments or silk-screen rock posters. And if you're eBay, a Taste Graph that draws from data provided by 100 million monthly active users becomes a powerful retail tool.

eBay needs to be everywhere the consumer wants to shop, both online and offline.

The solution:Milo; GSI Commerce
Why it fits: eBay's acquisitions of local shopping search engine Milo and retail website manager GSI Commerce helped it lay the groundwork for eBay Now, its new mobile app that offers same-day delivery online shopping from eBay's local retail partners, which include Target, Macy's, and Walgreens. With eBay Now, currently only available in San Francisco, buyers can order from eBay's retail partners with nearby brick-and-mortar stores and have items delivered right to them, usually within the hour. "Consumers shouldn't care whether a product is in a store in their neighborhood or in a shop halfway around the world," says eBay President Devin Wenig. "They should be able to get it anywhere, anytime."

[Image: Flickr user Horia Varlan]

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3 Comments

  • Barb

    Wow. How much did they pay you to write this? Ebay doesn't work anymore. Go check the forums on the site and Ebay user forums elsewhere. Sellers are experiencing consistent reductions in sales, 50% or more for many, and can't pay their bills. Buyers can't find the items they're searching for, even if they're listed on the site. Buyers are often unable to pay or they payment goes through multiple times. Sellers can't even find their own items in searches, so clearly buyers aren't seeing them. This has been a growing problem since Ebay took over it's own servers in 2009 to save money. 2012 has been a nightmare for sellers. Maybe you should look into THAT story instead of pretending that this glorified advertisement is actually relevant news.

  • Dave

    New makeup for the old girl, eh?
    How about figuring out how to stop beating up the sellers so badly while still catching the scammers instead of messing with the cosmatics.