eBay Everywhere Is Here
eBay has been one of the most aggressive retail players in the m-commerce space, both through its lineup of category-specific mobile apps and its PayPal payments unit. The company has projected doubling its mobile transaction volume this year to $4 billion. Much of the spending on eBay is coming through PayPal Mobile, which is on track to handle $3 billion in payment volume in 2011, up four-fold from last year.
Impressive numbers, but what's especially interesting is eBay's strategy of being anywhere and everywhere consumers want access to one its services -- something like the retail version of the cable industry's TV Everywhere approach. During eBay's second-quarter conference call this week, CEO John Donahue said that if asked a year or 18 months ago what kind of company eBay is, he would've said "an e-commerce company."
"But the mobile device is absolutely lowering the boundary or blurring the boundary between online and offline," he added, noting how the technology bridges the two worlds through activity like in-store use of apps. As one example, he pointed to U.K.-based chain Pizza Express adopting PayPal Mobile as an in-store payment option so customers can pay their checks right from the table using an iPhone.
Taking a step further in that direction, Donahue said eBay will start testing "point-of-sale" innovations with a major U.S. retailer by the end of the year. In 2012, it expects to roll out in-store payment service with up to 20 national retailers. With 100 million PayPal customers and 9 million merchant partners, the company can make a strong claim on mobile payments at checkout.
Of course, it's also vying in that space with powerful rivals including Google, which recently introduced its Near Field Communication (NFC)-powered Google Wallet app for making mobile payments. The wireless carrier-led Isis venture, which recently added Visa, MasterCard and American Express, plans to begin testing a competing NFC-based payments service by mid-2012.
eBay itself launched an NFC solution for Android devices that lets users transfer money by tapping two (Nexus S) phones together. But Donahue doesn't expect NFC to become widespread anytime soon for in-store payments, because merchants will be slow to embrace it without mobile standards in place.
"When you're a large merchant and you have 500 stores and 14 checkout lanes per store, you want 0 friction at checkout and point of sale," he said. "And they're not going to allow anything that has friction, no proprietary systems," he said.
Donahue emphasized that eBay's approach will be technology-agnostic. "So we're building solutions that work for their internet-enabled devices, their internet-enabled card readers and can handle card or mobile of all types of technologies," he said. In short, PayPal will get a piece of the action regardless of what technology standard emerges for mobile payments.
Given its customer base and relationships with the major card companies and merchants, it's hard to bet against PayPa playing a role when it comes to point-of-sale payments via mobile.