eBay’s “Connected Technologies”: Innovating Customer Engagement in the Retail Industry

By Harikesh Nair, David Hoyt
2014 | Case No. M349 | Length 23 pgs.

In 2013 and 2014, eBay deployed several sets of large, interactive touch screens and related technologies in shopping malls and retail stores. These “connected technologies” were used in a variety of ways intended to benefit both shoppers and retailers. In one case, screens served as “digital storefronts” in four locations throughout New York City for a new fashion brand, Kate Spade Saturday. Shoppers could evaluate products using the screens, and transfer the transaction to their smartphone for completion. The company used these screens to launch its brand in New York, and to gather information about the best location for a physical store. In a shopping mall application, large screens were installed in vacant storefronts. In addition to providing shoppers with information about products, and the opportunity to buy, sensors collected detailed information about the flow of traffic near the screens, which could be used by the store or mall. This data included the number of people that passed the screen, looked at it, stopped at it, and interacted with it. This can be contrasted with online advertising, where page views are counted, but there is no way of knowing whether the person even noticed the advertisement. In another application, Rebecca Minkoff’s first U.S. retail stores incorporated large touchscreens for browsing and selecting items to be taken to a fitting room. The fitting room mirror was also a touch screen, which the shopper could use to communicate with a sales associate, evaluate accessories or alternate colors, and view selections in different lighting conditions. This case describes technical innovations, and a potential vision for the future of retailing made possible by those innovations. It asks students how eBay should attempt to monetize these innovations, how the data collected should be packaged and utilized, and the implications of eBay’s vision for retailing’s future.

Learning Objective

This case was developed for a course on monetization of data, but could also be used in courses on retailing and innovation. The teaching goals include showing the development of technologies that can be applied to retailing, and that can be used to collect behavior data about shoppers. Various business models utilizing these technologies can then be discussed and evaluated for their impact on a number of groups, including retailers, shoppers, and online advertisers.

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