Star Apps: eBay's Steve Yankovich

Download.com chats with Steve Yankovich, VP of Innovation and New Ventures at eBay Inc., about the eBay app, his other favorite shopping software, and whether the m-commerce leader would ever sell software itself.

eBay's Steve Yankovich

(Credit: eBay)

When an Apple rep initially contacted eBay about developing a proprietary app back in 2008, the latter hadn't even heard of the iPhone or Objective-C. But seeing the potential of mobile software, a number of eBay employees believed that developing a mobile app would profit the global commerce and payments leader in the long run. In early 2009, they began raising funds for the formation of a mobile-specific group and commissioned an outside company to build the first eBay app.

Many software releases later, the app has helped the largest online marketplace blast off into mobile commerce, as eBay's mobile revenue has increased 33x from $600 million in 2009 to $13 billion in 2012--with a forecasted $20 billion in 2013.

Download.com recently chatted with Steve Yankovich, VP of Innovation and New Ventures at eBay Inc., who, as the VP of eBay mobile (2009-2012), played an integral role in the success of the original eBay app. Here he also discusses his other favorite shopping apps and whether the m-commerce leader would ever compete in the app marketplace with software of its own.

How has the eBay app changed shopping habits?
The users who started using our mobile app are more active than users who don't. They love that we're letting them buy in the moment--in a convenient way and at a great price. Also, sometimes they'll find an item on mobile and later buy it on their computer, and that's an even bigger percentage. Also, people often share what they bought, when they buy mobile, because they're doing it in front of others much of the time. Someone goes, "You got it on eBay? Let me see." And the next thing you know that person becomes an eBayer. 4.3 million users last year came onto eBay through mobile after having never been an eBay user before. It's that viral thing.

What are your favorite shopping apps?
I don't shop on other people's apps when I'm doing mobile shopping, and there are two reasons. One is: I believe in our marketplace. The other is that you can't make commerce simple enough on mobile, because when people are using the app, they are, in fact, mobile; so you have to make the flow very fast. Most commerce sites can't get it done. Just the registration process alone can lose customers.

As for registration, we're making it as short as we can. With the new eBay app for iPhone, you can prefill some of your information by scanning your driver's license. After that we persist login for six to nine months. It's the same thing for PayPal.

But I like Houzz, not because of the user experience, but because I like their content. I'm the kind of guy that cares about what's in my house, so that's why I like it. But what's interesting is that with a lot of apps, people spend time on them if the visuals are nice, because the visuals can entertain just like a magazine. Another app with nice visuals is One Kings Lane.

What other apps do you use most often?
I use apps that do something for me. I use Uber when I need a cab and am in a city where Uber's in, because it's a great, frictionless way to get a cab--or other levels of cars--and have it paid for. It's a perfect example of triaging your consumer life around something like getting a cab in an entirely better--yet new--way.

Which social media apps do you like?
I'm a regular user of Facebook. I will post things and consume posts that are connected to my passions, because I have friends that are into cooking or cars, like I am. But more and more, I'm finding that Instagram is an important app for me in that way.

I also like to read a lot. So I like Goodreads, because I have people on Facebook who are connected to it, and when it's people that you know and trust, you trust their reviews more than the rank and file on just another commerce site. I also use LinkedIn a lot and I've made pretty interesting business connections for my job at eBay through LinkedIn.

Yankovich, putting his passion in gear.

(Credit: Toby Burditt)

Do you use any apps to help you pursue your passions?
The app I use on my iPad mini that combines the two is Flipboard, an excellent example of technology that does a wonderful thing for me. In this case, this app aggregates digital magazines, so I've customized my feeds on Flipboard so it's essentially cars and food--and that's the perfect magazine for me.

On the cooking side, a cooking app I like is Food Network on TV, which has the largest selection of celebrity chefs and their recipes, so I'll look there and then riff on it. Then La Cucina Italiana--I use that for Italian recipes. On the car-only side, CarBuzz; it's like a Flipboard that's all cars, from different car sites.

eBay is known as the largest online marketplace where users can buy almost anything--except for apps. Will that change in the near future?
We thought about it, what sorts of digital things we could have a marketplace for. I don't rule it out, but we're not actively planning anything at the moment. Interesting thing: everyone on iPhones knows how to get apps--you go to the App Store or it's on your phone--but it's not as understood when you get to Android. Are there better ways to buy apps on Android devices?

The only drag is you have to have massive scale to make money because you're talking about microtransactions. Everything's possible, but I don't like things that take a behemoth scale before they make money.

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