eBay Is Betting On Bringing Commerce To Wearables And Other Connected Devices

The next frontier for eBay could be bringing commerce to wearables and other connected devices. In fact, the company has formed a brand-new group of engineers and designers internally, as part of its Innovation and New Ventures group, that focuses on creating ways to incorporate commerce into anything with a screen.

Part of eBay’s resurgence in the past five years has been attributed to the company’s early bet on mobile and tablet technologies. This effort was spearheaded by Steve Yankovich, who now heads the Innovation and New Ventures group at the company. In those early days of the iPhone, and beyond, Yankovich explained that the company built for every platform and for the mobile web and didn’t really debate over which to focus on singularly. Yankovich wants to take a similar approach to developing for new types of devices and screens.

The Innovations group as a whole was created to focus on redefining commerce across eBay Inc., including the marketplace, enterprise business and PayPal. “We’re not focused on short-term revenue, we’re trying to see what the future looks like.”

Last year, the group began building an app for a potential smartwatch and thinking through what a commerce app would look like on a user’s wrist. A few weeks ago, eBay debuted its app for the Samsung Galaxy Gear, and an app for the Pebble smartwatch.

As Yankovich explained to us, he sees a future where we have smart devices, beyond just phones and tablets, that use personalization, historical behavior and the sensors of a connected life to make it possible for consumers to shop and pay. He specifically calls this Zero Effort Commerce (ZEC), which he says is a future in which commerce intelligently happens automatically through our smart devices. ZEC will anticipate your shopping needs and act upon them.

“For example, a really smart digital personal assistant would take advantage of ZEC,” says Yankovich. “I have a friend who has a personal assistant who keeps track of his needs. His personal assistant replaces ceiling fan light bulbs, replaces shirts that she noted show wear, constantly fills the fridge, changes the wiper blades in cars, and on and on. In this person’s world everything he needs and wants automatically happens. We can work towards building a virtual personal assistant that uses personalization, historical behavior and the coming sensors of the connected home and life around us to do much the same thing but for all of us.”

In terms of where Yankovich sees the next frontier for wearables and screens heading, clearly as more watches hit the market, eBay will continue to develop. But the group also has been working on other projects, such as connected glass in shopping malls. And there are other areas, he says, where connected glass makes sense. For example, he sees an opportunity for connected glass in cars that could tell you where the nearest gas station is or order a replacement part for your car.

While Yankovich recognizes that some of these “moonshots” are far out, he believes that eBay has a unique opportunity to get ahead of commerce considering the company’s marketplace and payments assets via PayPal.

eBay and PayPal have not been historically categorized as part of the innovators in the tech world, but the company is making interesting acquisitions and changing internal cultures. Can this make eBay the next Google and Google X? Probably not, and Carl Icahn certainly thinks that the company is being mismanaged.

I wouldn’t count eBay out just yet. The fact that it’s thinking beyond the present and using its resources to move into under-developed areas like the offline world, as well as new connected devices makes me think that there could be a new era of innovation for eBay. And the company is clearly doing everything to make sure it won’t be left in the dust when it comes to the future of commerce.