Will eBay Be the Next Giant in Local?

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We hear a lot about the “four horsemen of digital media” — Apple, Google, Facebook and Amazon — which each own massive stakes of our digital lives.

This dominance carries over to local in varying degrees. Google clearly owns local search and mapping (and parallel efforts like Places, etc.). Facebook is increasingly becoming a discovery engine for just about everything, including local places and businesses. Meanwhile, Apple owns the touchpoint (literally) to consumers through hardware and content distribution. It’s also getting into mapping and is a sleeping giant in offline mobile payments. And don’t forget Amazon with its death by showrooming effect on local retail.

But is there a fifth contender in eBay? It’s been “local” to some degree since the first Beanie Baby sold in ’95. But it has accelerated its position in the last 18 months through a series of acquisitions, and is on pace for $8 billion in mobile transactions this year.

This master plan started to materialize for me when I saw eBay CEO John Donahoe explain the vision to a packed Moscone Center at last fall’s X.Commerce event. I realized then that eBay could already be well on its way to dominating local commerce. The picture has since become sharper through conversations with the eBay’s newly minted all-stars that will make it all happen. They include PayPal Chief Scientist Mok Oh, WHERE CEO Walt Doyle, and Milo CEO Jack Abraham (see past column).

The idea is something like this: WHERE Ads generate demand with targeted messaging. Milo product inventory goes deeper into user intent and discovery. Red Laser stands by as a search tool in retail contexts, and then PayPal closes the loop on transactions. And around and around we go… it’s all tracked in a way that makes analytics and ongoing presence/campaign optimization much more transparent. This is the holy grail of local advertising (and the real reason Google is pushing so hard on Google Wallet).

“The boundaries between the physical and digital world have disappeared, says Doyle, “and the purchase funnel has become a purchase pretzel.”

This closed loop not only serves users in lots of interesting ways, but it creates a trackable path to conversions. Though there’s a lot more to it and a lot more to develop, it starts to clear the fog that has perennially hovered between online and offline worlds.

“It’s no longer e-commerce,” Doyle is fond of saying “It’s just commerce”.

Much of this was solidified last week when WHERE — the company that Doyle founded in 2004 — officially changed its name to PayPal Media Network. This comes a year after eBay acquired WHERE, but further seals the deal and signifies deeper integration.

As Doyle told me on stage last month at ILM East in Boston, Where Ads are becoming a connected part of the closed loop commerce chain that eBay continues to build. “Continues” is the operative word here, as eBay isn’t resting on the above acquisitions.

PayPal is where it all comes together. In addition to longstanding position in online payments, it now has point of sale integration for big box retailers like Home Depot, and has down-market SMB access with its Square competitor PayPal Here.

The goal, as PayPal Chief Scientist Mok Oh told me on stage in December in San Francisco, is to be present online, offline and in mobile. In other words, all the places where buying decisions are being made or influenced these days.

And it’s not just about where users are spatially, or what device they’re on. It’s a function of where they are in the proverbial purchase funnel — the increasingly convoluted path between offline and offline worlds that leads from awareness to purchase.

“The boundaries between the physical and digital world have disappeared, says Doyle, “and the purchase funnel has become a purchase pretzel.”

Mike Boland is senior analyst at BIA/Kelsey, where he heads up the firm’s mobile local coverage. Previously, he was a tech journalist for Forbes, Red Herring, Business 2.0 and others.


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Mike Boland has been a tech & media analyst for the past two decades, specifically covering mobile, local, and emerging technologies. He has written for Street Fight since 2011. More can be seen at Localogy.com