|Mon Jan 10 2011 22:39:27|
How eBay Nearly Missed out on Its Mobile Advantage
By: Ina Steiner
A total of 11% of web shoppers reported having made a purchase from their phones this holiday season, according to a survey conducted by Foresee Results. Given the importance eBay is placing on mobile sales these days, it's surprising to learn the company nearly missed the boat on mobile.
Alan Lewis was a tech evangelist and product manager at eBay before he left for Auctiva. Last week, he wrote about his involvement with the development of the eBay iPhone app when he was working in the "Disruptive Innovation" group at eBay.
In the spring of 2008, Apple announced it would launch its App Store in iTunes that July. Alan said the eBay Mobile team made the decision not to invest in building an iPhone app, but Alan himself immediately applied and was granted a developer license from Apple.
Alan said he pulled together a team to work on the project in their spare time, and Apple hooked them up with Critical Path - the mobile development firm that eBay acquired last month. Because eBay had its iPhone App completed in time for the App Store launch in July 2008, Apple included the eBay app in television ads and other marketing promotions as well as placement in the App Store itself.
What's really interesting is that Alan said the success of the app wasn't enough to convince eBay leadership of the importance of mobile. In late 2008, most of the eBay Mobile team was laid off or re-assigned to other parts of the company. "Executives wanted to focus on the "core" of the business, and eBay Mobile was evidently not considered "core,"" Alan wrote.
The revelation from the former eBay techie comes on the heels of another employee revelation that eBay blundered in the digital content space in 2008.
John Donahoe was running eBay Marketplaces in 2008 and took over from Meg Whitman as CEO in March of that year. He slashed the Marketplaces business, reducing eBay's global workforce by 10 percent (with more layoffs to come the next year), and placed the priority on its payments business, acquiring Bill Me Later for $945 million.
One can't help think about what other opportunities were missed or nearly missed during that time.