EBay’s Steve Yankovich on Harnessing Mobile Devices

The e-tailer's vice president of innovation and new ventures talks about numerous ways mobile technology is enhancing the retail experience.

Steve Yankovich

Before Uber and Lyft came to American cities, Steve Yankovich, vice president, innovation and new ventures at eBay Inc., was in London and tried Addison Lee, a similar taxi service that knew where he was and promptly picked him up and dropped him off without Yankovich having to open his wallet or really say much of anything.

This story first appeared in the June 19, 2013 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

“It’s unbelievable,” exclaimed Yankovich. “This is an entirely new experience for something we’ve done in what turns out to be a clunky way before the technology shows up.” As mobile devices empowered with geofencing capabilities and consumer data enable more and more of those sort of experiences, he continued, they are “changing what we expect in the physical world.”

As expectations change, Yankovich foresees numerous improvements to the current dynamics in physical environments that can be provided by technology. An app developed by eBay for the Philadelphia Flyers hockey team, for example, can identify what seats users are sitting in and have food or jerseys delivered to those seats, which users purchase via the app.

“You can imagine at a stadium, everybody moving around, are ushers delivering product or people going to the bathroom, that’s all. Everybody else is in their seat spending more money,” said Yankovich. “This is a physical environment where the experience completely changes.”

For stores, eBay is trying out an array of technology-driven service enhancements. Yankovich described an app designed for tablets that gives sales associates detailed information about customers, such as their purchase histories and the manner in which they like to be assisted. “Maybe there’s profile information that says leave Steve alone unless he asks for help,” said Yankovich. He also outlined a mall app that could change depending upon what store its users enter, offering different coupons and pushing merchandise that specific stores want to discount.

Yankovich went on to paint a picture of customers walking into a store and instantly mobile devices or perhaps Google Glass show all of the available merchandise they desire in their exact sizes. The customers don’t even have to interact with sales associates. They could choose, order and check out on devices and have the products given to them in the store or perhaps later when they are at home, if they opt for delivery.

“You fulfill the product, help me find [it], help me discover, make buying frictionless and then give it to me whatever way I want it,” said Yankovich, adding, “There’s no question you will close, convert; you will do more business with everyone who walks in the store if you create this magic that I’m talking about. I guarantee it.”

Touchscreens can change shopping, too. At four Kate Spade Saturday pop-up shops in New York, eBay has installed touchscreens that allow customers to make purchases with PayPal. Yankovich thinks touchscreens could play larger roles in stores on walls, tables and more. “Imagine a bed on a wall actual size and you touch it and swipe, and the bedding changes,” said Yankovich, continuing that, in the future, “We will actually see ‘Minority Report’ where the glass to you is clear, but it can become a touchscreen.”

Yankovich emphasized there’s value in trying out many different technology possibilities, although he acknowledged not everything is going to be successful. Shopping along with television shows hasn’t quite hit the mark yet. Two years ago, eBay introduced “Watch With eBay,” which allows customers to browse items related to television shows they are watching. “This will eventually happen. We were kind of too early,” said Yankovich.