The Future of Shopping is in the Palms of Your Hands

Years ago, Bob Dylan famously sang, “Oh the times, they are a-changing.” The lyrics have never been truer. The digital age has brought unique challenges to old business models.  One industry that’s poised to adapt the most quickly, according to Steve Yankovich, VP Innovation and New Ventures at eBay, is shopping and retail.

Speaking at South by Southwest Interactive, Yankovich, who is charge of eBay’s mobile division, discussed his vision of how shopping will change.  He’s certainly an authority: his group, through tablet and mobile shopping alone, generates $640 in revenue a second – that’s $54 million a day.  Here are a few takeaways from his talk:

Catering to New Human Behaviors

Today’s consumers are on their mobile devices all day – the phone is next to you when you wake up, it’s with you at work, and  when you’re home cooking dinner.  “The entire day is potential shopping time,” Yankovich said.  The more prevalent mobile adoption becomes, “the more exposure consumers will have to technology that enables them to shop with as little as a few clicks.”  As it stands now, there’s 50% smartphone and 20% tablet adoption in the US.

Additionally, Yankovich argued that it’s natural for humans to interact with information directly, hence why touchscreen devices make so much sense.  He used the example of a baby using technology: put a computer with a mouse and keyboard in front of a baby, they might pound on the keyboard or give you a puzzled look.  Put a tablet in front of them, and you’re more likely to see this:

Yankovich also discussed the influence of “social TV”– people watching TV and interacting with their friends via social tools (text messaging, Skype, Twitter.) to discuss the show as its airing – on purchasing habits.  “Viewers take what’s on screen as inspiration to shop,” he said. “Those who make it easiest to do so [will profit].”

The Evolution of In-Store Shopping

Yankovich boldly predicted that eventually, the shopping experience a consumer has from both their in-store and online experience would be near identical.  Think about what Burberry is in the process of implementing in many of their stores – interactive displays, barcode scanners to display product information, etc. This approach provides many advantages to both retailers and customers.  Using mobile phone GPS technology, retailers could know when you’ve arrived in the store, how high value of a shopper you are and serve up customized displays and/or in store companion applications based on your preferences.  Customers can get to the things they want faster, gain access to digital wallets and loyalty cards, and enjoy a better shopping experience.  These experiences play to personalization – something that many shoppers crave.

Keeping it Simple

The “KISS” rule (keep it simple, stupid) is more important than ever to keep consumers shopping.  Yankovich gave an example of one simple change he made to Ebay’s mobile app: to reach the “Buy This” button on a listing, you had to scroll slightly down.  He moved the button ‘above the fold’ to the very top of every listing, even above the listing image and description and saw a 30% increase in conversions.

Yankovich added that companies that could create what he called “transactions/shopping experiences with the least friction” would be the most successful.

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