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Swipe to Pay, Better Mobile Apps Goals of eBay’s Latest Hire

Aaron Pressman
The Exchange

It’s been a few years since anyone described eBay’s (EBAY) vast online marketplace as troubled or in need of a revamp. With sales rising at double-digit rates, newly hired chief product officer for the marketplace, RJ Pittman, has his eyes set on mobile expansion.

Pittman, who helped design and run Apple’s (AAPL) popular online storefront, says he’s starting at eBay marketplace with a focus on mobile, the fastest growing segment of online commerce.

A typical customer nowadays might research a purchase on their phone, browse search results on a tablet and then complete the transaction on a desktop computer, Pittman notes.

What’s needed is software that remembers what the customer was doing on each device. It’s much like the mobile apps that let a person watching a movie on their phone, picking up just where they left off when they switch to watching on a tablet or smart TV.

“It should all feel completely unified,” Pittman says.

Thanks to the proliferation of smartphones and tablets, mobile commerce is growing much faster than purchasing via desktop computers. eBay expects 20% annual growth over the next three years, CFO Bob Swan said on a call with analysts on October 17. But within the total, mobile e-commerce is growing 65% a year, according to Swan.

Pittman is also thinking about ways to improve the payments process, relying, not surprisingly, on deeper use of eBay’s PayPal unit. PayPal last month paid $800 million for Braintree, the payments platform used by mobile apps like Uber, Airbnb and Fab.

“Payment is a critical, fundamental element of a marketplace such as eBay,” he says. “How can we make it more friction free?”

Already, he’s thinking about the possibilities of gesture-based payments on phones and tablets – swipe-and-buy or combining all the steps of a purchase into one tap.

The growth of mobile shopping is paradoxically opening greater opportunities for eBay to participate in the world of physical stores as well. This summer, the company experimented with setting up virtual storefronts on huge touchscreens in New York City.

With a goal of “fusing online and offline,” the company is aiming to “create breakthrough customer experiences that blur the lines between online and going into a store,” Pittman says.

At Apple, Pittman oversaw design, product management and commerce innovation at the iPhone maker’s online store. He previously worked at Google (GOOG) on consumer search and other products.

While eBay’s main competitors are the giants like Amazon (AMZN) and Google, Pittman also plans to keep his eyes on smaller upstarts that are focused on niche markets. Etsy, the artist-driven online marketplace, and room renting website Airbnb are both of interest, he says.

“It’s not so much that eBay needs to worry about those, but we need to pay attention and see what they’re doing right,” Pittman says. “The recipe I’ve used at Google an Apple is to pay very close attention to what everyone’s doing out in the landscape.”

Pittman’s departure from Apple coincided with Apple’s hiring of Burberry CEO Angela Ahrendts to oversee both physical and online retail. But Pittman says his departure was unrelated.

“It is a fantastic team there, they’re on fire,” he says. “This is a completing of the puzzle for them so they can take it to the next level.”

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