New UX: eBay’s Balancing Act

Yesterday, eBay has announced a whole new set of changes to their website, which will be rolled out in the coming weeks and months (thanks to our colleagues at Excitingcommerce for pointing this out, somehow eBay is way off our eCommerce radar). This includes a new logo, but also a fully reworked user experience. (See ebaystrategies for detailled info and screenshots.) At its core it has a customisable stream of product images, which is very clearly modelled after Pinterest. Obviously, eBay tries to pull some of the serendipity glory of its paragon into its own model.

Disclaimer: Sorry for not sounding too excited. This has mostly to do with the fact that, frankly, I never really got Pinterest in the first place. Collecting images of things that are pretty … dunno. It’s probably because the force of collecting/wanting things (either for myself or for others) is not so strong with me, apparently. However, I understand that there are many many others who just like to stretch out on the couch with their iPad and let themselves be inspired by all the shiny things that the world of commerce has to offer.

Now eBay is offering a new interface to support people wanting to discover things while they might be looking for something completely different. And, it has been done in a way that clearly caters to the needs of its tablet using audience. Without having to download a native application (such as the eBay app or the Amazon Windowshop), one only uses the browser to access the site and it’s automatically rendered to suit the device that is being used.

A few key points can be deduced from this strategic move:

  • It takes a small, hugely successful startup to get the innovation cycle going, before eventually a larger player takes up the idea (or even buys the entire company) and introduce it to the mainstream audience.  Pinterest had it first (German clone-kings created a copy) and eBay uses it now. Similar to this, Instagram brought decent mobile image distribution to Facebook. A whole range of sites brought real-time search to Google.
  • eBay hasn’t been the first company recognising the potential of Pinterest. A couple of months ago, Rakuten has invested $100m in this photo sharing community.
  • Commerce sites with such a focus on images challenge traditional text-based search engines like Google. Though rapidly evolving, image recognition is no match for alphanumeric characters.
  • The focus shifts away from being a mere transaction platform towards a place which stimulates impulse purchases.

Creating demand by bringing interesting products to visitors’ attention is fundamentally different from satisfying demand by offering elaborate taxonomies and text-searches to guide potential buyers to the cheapest products – the latter being eBay’s role in the past years. I really wonder how this balancing act will work out for them.

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