EBay app gives shoppers the ability to buy merchandise seen on TV

Steve Yankovich is engrossed in a televised hockey game between the Chicago Blackhawks and the Vancouver Canucks. Though he’s a hockey zealot, he cares less about the score than the attire of Ryan Kesler, a Canuck center.

“See his jersey?” the EBay Inc. executive said, pointing to a TV that almost covers a wall of his office. As he talks, the uniform pops up on a tablet computer in front of him, along with vintage sportswear and tickets to upcoming games — all available for purchase.

The software is central to EBay’s campaign to help consumers buy the things they see on television — a concept known as TV commerce. The company this week started offering the features as part of its iPad application, letting users browse merchandise from shows and movies. EBay aims to leverage its role as the largest online marketplace, with 200 million listings and 50 million mobile users.

Yankovich was inspired to develop the technology while watching the movie “Something’s Gotta Give,” which featured a toaster he wanted. “You’ll be able to buy exactly what’s there,” said Yankovich, who runs mobile services at the San Jose company.


The new product works with TV-guide data to show relevant merchandise in EBay’s store. Although the first version will run only on the iPad, the company plans to make it available on other tablets and mobile phones, Yankovich said. For now, the user has to tell the app what channel is on, though eventually it will automatically sync with the TV.

The idea is to recognize the brand and make of clothing and props in each scene — a jacket worn by January Jones on AMC’s “Mad Men,” for example — and let users buy the same item on EBay. That will hinge on the company forging partnerships with cable providers, studios and networks, something EBay is working on, Yankovich said.

Getting cooperation from Hollywood may be the biggest challenge for EBay. To succeed in the TV commerce market, it will need access to wardrobe and prop data, said Ken Sena, an analyst at Evercore Partners Inc. in New York. Although the concept of making it easier to buy items shown on TV has been discussed for years, no one has pulled it off yet.

“The success has been pretty limited,” Sena said. “A lot of it comes down to the media relationships. There is a business opportunity here. You just need to make sure you have all the listings, sizes, where it’s available.”


The foray into television commerce is part of Chief Executive John Donahoe’s turnaround effort for the e-commerce company, which saw sales growth slow over the past decade. EBay is investing in new products and making acquisitions to attract more users — especially on mobile devices, where the company expects to get $5 billion in payment volume this year.

EBay is trying to woo multitaskers — the 86% of tablet and mobile-phone users who use their devices while watching TV. A quarter of these people browse for information about the things that they’re viewing, according to a January survey by Yahoo Inc. and Nielsen Co.

EBay will rely on its selection of new, used and antique items to serve up relevant products, Yankovich said. A 1950s bread container, for example, may suddenly be more alluring if it’s in a movie scene.

“The reason we’re going to own this is that inventory,” he said. “There are not too many places that sell you a brand-new car from a dealer and a classic car from the ‘30s.”