eBay links tablets and TV

14 December 2011

NEW YORK: eBay, the ecommerce site, has launched an iPad app enabling users to buy products featured in TV shows while they are on air.

The company's new "Watch with eBay" application provides links to various items appearing during television programmes, from apparel to coffee mixers, as featured on its own website.

Although the technology allowing for real-time interaction with such goods while they are actually on screen – such as by hovering over them with a cursor in real-time – is not yet in widespread use, this remains the ultimate goal.

"The app can sync with any television programme in the US. I think the coverage is pretty ubiquitous," Steve Yankovich, eBay's vice president, mobile, told Fast Company in an interview.

"And this is a perfect fit for eBay, because we're really the only place with the wide range of products that you find across the TV programming spectrum: collectibles, retro products, new products, clothing, etc," said Yankovich.

Currently, eBay's app focuses on items appearing for more than "fleeting" glimpses. It also takes context into account, for example linking to shirts of competing NFL teams or general "Dora the Explorer" merchandise, not just to products in the background.

"The app gives the user an opportunity to see what they can buy at the peak moment of their engagement with the show or team," said Yankovich.

"If you're watching a [San Francisco] 49ers game, and you have the app on, you go into the store and you see a 49ers barbecue cover. You weren't looking for that, and maybe you didn't even know it existed, but now you see it and you like it."

Yankovich quoted data from Nielsen, the research firm, which revealed 86% of US smartphone and tablet owners utilise them at the same time as viewing broadcast content, and 30% look for further information about relevant shows.

"We also know that people don't want to use their TV as a computer while they are watching it," he said. "So instead of putting the app directly on the TV, there's a connected experience on two different devices."

"I don't think suddenly people who would normally spend $1,000 a year are going to spend $6,000. But where you are when you buy something matters more than ever."

This kind of "couch commerce" could even be applicable to big-ticket purchases, with eBay now selling 2,800 cars through its mobile platform each week.

Data sourced from Fast Company; additional content by Warc staff